The number of referrals by schools seeking mental health treatment for pupils has shot up by over a third in the last three years, it was revealed today.
In total, schools made 123,713 requests for help for pupils from the NHS child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) between 2014-15 and 2017-18, said the NSPCC children’s charity.
Using information from Freedom of Information requests to NHS Trusts in England, the charity found that of the 53 trusts which provided information there were 25,140 referrals in 2014-15 rising to 34,757 in 2017-18 – the equivalent of 183 every school day.
And it discovered that most referrals (56 per cent) came from primary schools – it said this could be a result of a lack of funding and services to support children in those settings.
“Our research shows schools are increasingly referring children for specialist mental health treatment, often when the child is at crisis point,” Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said.
The charity also found that nearly a third (31 per cent) of referrals from schools to Camhs, from trusts who were able to provide the information over the last three years, were declined treatment as they did not meet the criteria for support.
The news follows a highly critical report from MPs last week, which said that the government’s £300 million plans to improve mental health provision for children “lack ambition and will provide no help to the majority of children who desperately need it.”
Now the NSPCC is now calling on the government to invest in early support services for children.
It said its Childline service has seen a 26 per cent increase in the number of counselling sessions with children about mental health issues over the past four years.
Due to the rise in mental health counselling sessions the charity delivers, it is calling on the government to increase the amount of funding it gives to Childline, to ensure it can reach even more children who are struggling.
Mr Wanless said: “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.
“We have seen a marked increase in counselling about mental health, and fully expect it to continue. It is vital that government urgently provides more funding to Childline and help children who don’t have access to support elsewhere.”
More awareness of mental health issues in schools could be one reason behind the rise said Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor on mental health and wellbeing for the NAHT heads' union.
“What the data shows is that more pupils are being referred,” Ms Hannafin said. “More pupils are suffering from mental health issues and there is much more awareness in schools for spotting potential problems and intervening early to get support.
“However, more than a third of referrals are not accepted. Schools have referred these pupils because they are concerned about their mental health and know that the child needs more specialist support than could, and should, be offered by school staff.
“Worryingly, many of these children are not meeting the thresholds set by Camhs. NAHT and other organisations are concerned about how high these thresholds are.”
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 £1.4 billion 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.”