The numbers show a dramatic increase in the number of children needing treatment for serious mental health problems, including eating disorders.
NHS data analyzed by PA news agency show referrals to NHS mental health treatment for under-18s increased by 39% in a year to exceed one million (1,169,515) in 2021/22 .
This compares with the previous year, 2020/21 – the year of the pandemic – of 839,570. There were 850,741 referrals in 2019/20.
Data across England include children suffering from suicide, self-harm, severe depression and anxiety, and children with eating disorders.
Meanwhile, NHS digital data analyzed by PA show an increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders among children and young people.
Enrollments under the age of 18 will reach 7,719 in 2021/22, up from 6,079 the previous year and 4,232 in 2019/20, an 82% increase in two years.
From April to October 2022, the most recent data available, there were 3,456 hospital admissions, up 38% from 2,508 in the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.
From April to October 2020, there were 3,011 hospitalizations, compared to 4,600 in the same period in 2021, when the impact of the pandemic took hold.
For people of all ages, including adults, data suggest that 2022/23 could see the highest number of hospitalizations for eating disorders.
Enrollment from April to October 2022 was 15,083, compared with 28,436 in the previous year (2021/22).
A year ago enrollment was 23,351, but in 2019/20 it was 20,650, a 38% increase between 2019/20 and 2021/22.
Dr. Elaine Lockhart, dean of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Royal Psychiatric Society, told PA that the increase in referrals to children and adolescents reflects the “full spectrum” of the disease. rice field.
She said “specialist services need to respond to the most urgent and sickest”, including young people with psychosis, suicidal ideation and severe anxiety disorders.
Dr. Lockhart said the goal of urgently seeing children with eating disorders had dropped “completely” and needed more staff.
“What is frustrating for us is that if we could see them sooner and intervene, the difficulties might not be as severe as they were because they had to wait,” she added.
Lockhart said the mental health of children and young people was deteriorating before the pandemic, in part because of rising social inequalities, austerity and online harm.
“When the lockdown and pandemic hit, it really affected a lot of kids very badly,” she added.
“Those who were doing well became vulnerable, and those who were vulnerable became unwell.
“And part of it was about the children themselves feeling so liberated from the daily life that supports them … but I also see my own parents struggling. .
Agnes Ayton, Ph.D., chair of the university’s eating disorders department, said “patients we see on the front line…usually are very sick” and services are struggling to meet demand.
She said many factors can influence a child’s likelihood of developing an eating disorder, including genetics, social media, anxiety (including due to the pandemic), and weight loss advertising.
She told PA: The pandemic certainly had an impact, but trends have been rising even before then.
“There is no indication that the numbers will go down without strategies that include prevention, improved treatment, better access to effective inpatient care and better research facilities.”
Dr Ayton said the number of hospitalizations for children and adolescents was “utterly heartbreaking”, adding: “Without early support, eating disorders can become worse, more difficult to treat, and have life-changing consequences. There is a nature.
“If government and NHS leaders are to take this ongoing eating disorder crisis seriously, they need to ensure that professional services are supported with the same level of focus as selective care. .”
Tom Madders, director of communications and campaigns at YoungMinds, called the numbers “very alarming”, adding: Increased academic pressure to emerge from the pandemic and catch up on lost learning, combined with the impact of the cost of living crisis, has made their future prospects more limited.
“Sadly, the numbers are not surprising, as recent months have seen a series of similar statistics highlighting the mental health emergency among young people.
“The current state of play cannot continue. The government must grasp the situation.”
Data show that anorexia is the most common eating disorder leading to hospitalization in all age groups, with 10,808 hospitalizations in 2021/22.
Binge eating was the second most common with 5,563, and other eating disorders accounted for 12,893 hospitalizations.
Tom Quinn, head of public relations for the eating disorder charity Beat, said the figure was “extremely concerning.”
He added: “Because inpatient care is usually reserved for the sickest, the increase in hospitalizations is likely because young people are not getting local care quickly enough, and It indicates that their eating disorder may be more entrenched.
“Governments and the NHS need to develop plans to close the workforce gap. This should include the allocation of trained and supervised non-clinical staff where appropriate.
“Increasing eating disorder training for medical and educational professionals will also help identify the signs of eating disorders more quickly and guide young people to help at the earliest opportunity. It helps.”
An NSPCC spokesperson said: The service provides tens of thousands of counseling sessions each year to children and young people who self-harm, suffer from depression and anxiety, experience suicidal thoughts, and have eating disorders. doing. ”
A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said:
“We have already invested £2.3bn a year in mental health services, which means that by 2024 an additional 345,000 children and young people will have access to support, and by this time mental health We are looking to increase our staff by 27,000, and that too.”