'Progressive cuts' behind rise in child mental health disorders, reveals top psychiatrist

4 February 2022, 15:29 | Updated: 4 February 2022, 16:23

By Tim Dodd

"Progressive cuts" to social services and schools have "driven an increase in prevalence of mental health disorders" among children, the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Dr Elaine Lockhart has told LBC.

It comes as a record number of children have been referred for specialist care for the most serious mental health problems during the pandemic.

Between April 2021 and October 2021, the number of children aged under 18 needing care for issues ranging from self-harm to eating disorders increased by 77% compared to the same period in 2019.

According to NHS data analysed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, some 409,347 children required help during that period.

By the end of October 2021, there were nearly 350,000 under-18s in touch with NHS child and adolescent psychiatric teams - the highest number on record.

Dr Elaine Lockhart is the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Child and Adolescent Faculty Chair.

Dr Lockhart told Shelagh Fogarty: "We're seeing not just an increase in the number of referrals, but during the last couple of years, a significant increase in the number of really sick children and young people, particularly thinking of those with eating disorders, psychosis, self harm and suicidal thoughts and actions.

"It has been a perfect storm, before the pandemic children and young people's mental health was getting worse. 

"We have had increasing social inequality, we have had progressive cuts in what's been available within local authorities, social services and schools, and that's driven an increase in prevalence of mental health disorders."

"And in the deterioration of mental health disorders?" Shelagh asked.

"Yes absolutely," Dr Lockhart replied. 

Dr Lockhart also suggested social media was impacting children's mental health.

"It's that idea of it being there 24/7. Bullying you, following you into your bedroom, you're not getting a break from it, and I think that pressure is huge.

"And we know it's the most vulnerable children and young people who spend more time on social media."

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