The number of schools referring children for mental health treatment has risen by a third in the last three years, the NSPCC says.
A Freedom of Information request to all the NHS trusts in England showed that 123,713 referrals - many from primary schools - were made since 2014/15.
Over half of those referrals came from primary schools.
The numbers increased steadily year on year, with the equivalent of 183 children per school day being referred last year, and in nearly a third of those cases, the children were refused treatment by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
As a result, the NSPCC is calling on the government to provide extra funding to its services like Childline, which it says may provide a lifeline to children who are refused treatment.
Its Are You There? Campaign saw four young Childline campaigners hand a petition with over 22,000 signatures to Downing Street, asking the government to ensure every child with mental health issues is helped.
Why have the referrals increased?
“There are a number of explanatory factors,” says NSPCC’s Policy Officer Alana Ryan. “One of the good things this might show is that teachers are feeling more equipped to spot mental health problems.
“It could be pupils are happier coming forward.”
She added that the internet had brought a new, modern set of issues.
“It’s he number of pressures young people face today, online and offline.
There are worrying levels of cyberbulling and sexting, which are very much 21st century problems.
“Offline, exam pressures, school troubles... children who call Childline also feel worried about things like that and we need to recognise they are very real problems.”
Why are children being rejected?
“The Care Quality Commission (CQC) acknowledged in their review of CAMHS that there is rising demand, and only children with the most severe levels of need are being seen in those services,” says Ryan.
The Prime Minister requested a major review of child mental health services in January last year, and the CQC’s findings were released last October.
They estimated only 25% of young people access services, as they find it difficult to find support, due to a number of issues like long waiting lists and a lack of communication between the different agencies that fund, facilitate and provide care.
“The problem is that there are children with a real need who are being left on waiting lists for a long time or rejected outright,” Alana added.
How does this affect children?
“I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks and find it difficult to leave the house or get out of bed.
“I was referred to CAMHS but I was on a waiting list for 8 months and during that time my anxiety got worse so I never went because I was too scared,” one 17-year-old girl told Childline.
The NSPCC says secondary services like Childline are vital in providing support to children who face long waits for counselling or are turned away from the service.
“Childline is only able to answer three out of four calls,” says Ryan.
“Last year the equivalent of 60 sessions a day related to suicidal thoughts and feelings.
“It’s important to us to upscale our resources, at the moment the service gets 80% of its funding from voluntary donations from the public.
“That’s why we’re calling for a small proportion of the £300 million green paper funding to secondary services like Childline.”
Theresa May has pledged £300 million of funding to appoint a ‘mental health lead’ in schools, but a report by the Education and Health and Social Care select committees criticised the plans, saying that only a quarter of the country would receive services by 2023.