By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
The demand for mental health services for children and young people in Kent has “sharply” risen amid the pandemic, it has emerged.
Pressure on local mental health services has increased significantly during Covid, with south east England “disproportionately” affected by the crisis.
North East London NHS Trust’s mental health services has seen child referrals grow from around 2,000 in March 2020 to more than 2,500 in March 2021.
There has also been a significant rise in the number of youngsters using Kent Community Health Trust from 25 in May 2020 to a peak of 140 in March 2021.
Sue Mullin, who is Kent’s senior programme lead for child commissioning team, said the “real concern” centres around complexity in the care required.
She said: “We are really concerned about the increased demand this year, which is around 20% to 60% across the south east of England.”
The prevalence of probable mental disorders for children and young people aged five to 16 has increased significantly between 2017 and 2020, from 10.8% of the population in 2017 to 16% in 2020, according to NHS data.
Young people aged 17 to 22 are vulnerable to mental illness, particularly those who have experienced trauma from adverse childhood experiences, the CCG say.
Under this, some youngsters are facing higher levels of anxiety while others have engaged in self-harm.
Earlier today, the governing body of Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) were informed about a series of actions to improve health.
Solutions have been put forward by the county-wide health body as Kent NHS leaders revealed some “good news” is on the horizon.
More online counselling has been offered to youngsters while mental health services are being provided at Kent schools and home treatment.
James Williams, who is Medway Council’s public health director, called on closer co-operation with local public health authorities for more action.
He said: “There is a lot we can do as a system to tackle and address this, but we need more intensive care and support.”
GPs have also called on preventative measures to be introduced to reduce the need for mental health crisis support, which include emergency bed referrals.
Dr Ashwani Peshen, of East Cliff Practice in Ramsgate, said: “Prevention is better than cure.
“We must put measures in place to prevent conditions from deteriorating.”
County Councillor Karen Constantine said: “These increases are alarming and concerning. We don’t want to see our young people suffering. I fully agree that prevention is better than cure and this is exactly why I have repeatedly called for increased investment in local youth services and for mental health services for young people to be funded to meet the actual demand.
“We need to do all we can to meet both the current mental health needs of young people and to anticipate on-going emerging needs. This group need timely help and professional support to support their mental health but also to build their resilience during these extremely challenging times.
“The Government needs to step up and guarantee sufficient funding for mental health provision here in the South East and elsewhere. Lack of proper funding will stoke a longer term mental health care crisis.
“I was already concerned about the health and well-being of Thanet’s young people and I have been seeking clarification from the Kent and Medway Director of Public Health as to whether money has been made available for combatting the social isolation of young people. Although I’ve been asking since May 11 I’ve yet to receive an answer. That answer is now urgent.
“I would advise any young person, parent or carer to raise their concerns about how they are feeling with the NHS services including a GP, with a friend or teacher. If they feel they are getting nowhere they can also contact me. ”
Cllr Constantine can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org