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Teens Are Struggling to Access Life-Saving Mental Health Services

New statistics show 60 percent of young British people referred to doctors for mental health treatment are denied support. A teenage girl who's been through the system and a mental health charity explain how we're failing our young people.
July 4, 2016, 12:55pm
Photo by Alexey Kuzma via Stocksy

"For you, the fact you've just cut yourself is the worst thing in the world. To them, it's just another person; another day."

Jasmine, aged 18, is explaining what it's like trying to access specialist mental health services as a young person in the UK. Her comments come as new figures released by British medical publication Pulse reveal the extent to which children and teens with mental health issues are struggling to receive life-saving support.


According to the investigation, 60 percent of the young people referred by their general practitioners to the UK child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) receive no help at all. In a third of cases, CAMHS did not even bother to assess the case.

For the 40 percent of children lucky enough to receive specialist support from CAHMS, the picture is far from rosy. This is something Jasmine, who was first referred aged 13, knows all too well. "Dealing with CAMHS can make you feel de-legitimizing, like your pain isn't bad enough for anyone to sit up and take notice. You bring up things that are worrying you, and it's like, 'Yeah, what else?'"

In some cases, doctors told Pulse that CAMHS was refusing to treat patients unless they'd attempted suicide or self-harmed. Only last month, the chief executive of NHS England Simon Stevens publicly acknowledged that youth mental health services were the "most creaking" part of the NHS mental health sector.

Read More: Why So Many Teen Girls Are Poisoning Themselves

Although the British government recently pledged to invest £1.4 billion in youth mental health services by 2020, it's apparent that the system currently isn't working for young people. On Tumblrs such as camhsfuckery, young people anonymously describe their experiences attempting to access mental health services in the UK. Posts include the 16 year old scared to tell her parents she still needs support, or the young person unsure how to explain to a CAMHS receptionist that they're having a crisis.

"I think the main problem is that they're really over-stretched and not that sympathetic," Jasmine said. "They haven't got any support outside of hours, so when I was in a crisis and I did want to reach out to them, there's nothing you can do. I think if I'd followed my gut instincts from the start I'd have been on the road to recovery a lot quicker. I knew I wanted medication but I had to jump through so many loopholes to get it."

The Mental Health Unit at Charing Cross Hospital in London. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

"My psychologist would say things like 'Oh you're not really suicidal, if you were suicidal you'd be doing this etc.,'" she added. "After my suicide attempt she just shook her head and said, 'What are we going to do with you?' I don't think we even discussed the fact I'd tried to kill myself."

In response to the findings, a Department of Health spokesperson said: "No child who needs help should be refused it. That's why we have introduced the first ever mental health access and waiting time standards and are putting in a record £1.4 billion to transform support for young people in every area of the country."

Nick Harrop from the youth mental health charity Young Minds explains the challenges faced by young people today. "According to our 2014 survey, kids are worried about stresses at school; their future; whether they'll ever be able to get a job; being sexualized too early and the pressures that are put on you by the Internet.

"What we know is that early intervention is vitally important for mental health problems. It's unacceptable that so many young people aren't getting the support they need. We need to make sure that the £1.4 billion pledged by the government reaches frontline services so that young people can get the support they need.

"Without that support, this can have an impact on that child's whole life, so it makes sense to deal with problems early."