Reports have revealed that Britain’s primary schools are facing a mental health crisis as figures show the number of children needing NHS counselling has risen by a third.
Statistics obtained following freedom of information requests to NHS trusts show that the number of referrals to mental health services by all schools rose by almost 10,000 from 25,140 in 2014/15 to 34,757 in 2017/18.
Children as young as three were referred to professionals by their teachers as the number of under-11s needing psychological help rose to almost 19,000 in the past year, from less than 14,000 three years earlier.
More than half of these were for primary school children, with experts warning that this suggested that there was not enough help for the youngest children available in school.
The NSPCC, which carried out the survey of 53 NHS trusts, warned that increased demand for support across specialist mental health services, schools and the voluntary sector was placing the system under pressure, jeopardising the well-being of thousands of children.
Over the last three years nearly a third of referrals from schools to the 45 trusts which responded to this question were declined treatment as they did not meet the criteria for support.
The news follows a damning report from two select committees, Education and Health and Social Care, last week, which found that the Government’s £300m plans to improve mental health provision for children “lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of children who desperately need it.”
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC said: “Our research shows schools are increasingly referring children for specialist mental health treatment, often when the child is at crisis point.
“Childline plays a vital role in supporting children with their mental health, and many turn to us when they are struggling to get access to specialist treatment. Early counselling from Childline could also help relieve the pressure on CAMHS.”
Dame Esther Rantzen, founder and president of Childline, said: “Young people are telling us they are overwhelmed with mental health issues, such depression and anxiety, which is taking many of them to the brink of suicide.”
Responding to the figures, a Government spokesperson said: “Making sure children and young people get the right support when they need it is imperative. That is why are allocating £300 million, over and above the additional £1.4bn being invested in specialist services, to provide more support linked to schools.
“This includes new mental health support teams to provide trained mental health workers to work closely with schools –including primary schools – to provide quicker support to children.
“We know we need to do more which is why we have extended our schools and NHS link pilot to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year. This will improve links between up to 1,200 schools and their local specialist mental health service.”
Separate figures published by charity the Mental Health Foundation show that one in three young adults aged between 18 and 24 had self-harmed because of stress and 39 per cent had experienced suicidal feelings.