The number of under 18s referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) has risen by 53% since 2019, escalating to over 1.2 million in 2022, according to data from NHS Digital1 analysed by the mental health charity, YoungMinds.
The latest projected figures2 reveal 1,239,838 young people aged between 0-18 were referred for mental health support in 2022. A large number are yet to be treated and remain on waiting lists. This compares to 812,070 in 2019.
This is the second consecutive year of referrals that total over one million and suggests that more children and young people than ever before are struggling with their mental health.
The youth mental health charity, YoungMinds, is calling for urgent Government action to address this surge in need with a new plan to introduce more support for young people.
Research by the charity also shows young people today are facing a unique combination of challenges, including the consequences of the pandemic, the cost of living crisis and academic catch up, which are taking a toll on their mental health. Over half (53%) of young people told the charity that worries about money were impacting their mental health and over a quarter (28%) are still feeling the impact of the pandemic.3
Data earlier this year also showed that a quarter of a million young people have been denied NHS support in the last year4 and the lack of any concrete mental health workforce planning means waiting lists in much of the country are longer than two years.
This comes at a time when the Government abandoned its ten-year mental health plan in favour of the Major Conditions Strategy that wraps mental health up with physical health conditions like cancer and diabetes. The shelved long-term plan could have paved the way for reforms that support young people and reduce the prevalence of poor mental health. 14,000 young people responded to a consultation on this plan5 over a year ago and they are yet to see any new proposals emerge.
I had to wait sixteen weeks to receive specialist support for my failing mental health. I felt demotivated, neglected and abandoned and it soon became an incessant cycle which started to affect my ability to study for my A Levels. Our country supposedly has a world class health service but it's underfunded and strained with young people left to fall through the cracks.
Every day without action is another day thousands of young people are without the mental health support they need. Behind every number is a young person facing impossible challenges. We cannot allow this to be accepted as the new normal, with 1.2 million young people referred to mental health services, and so many going without support.
A year ago, 14,000 young people responded to the Government’s call for views and told them loud and clear what change was needed. Twelve months on, as the situation worsens, we are still waiting. The Government had an opportunity to hear from young people and take action that could transform the system, but all we’ve seen is delay.
The Government must listen to young people and commit to action that drives down numbers of young people needing support, prioritises early intervention, and properly funds mental health services.
Today, to mark the end of the consultation period on the Major Conditions Strategy, YoungMinds and a group of young people are taking two vans to Westminster featuring messages from some of the 14,000 who responded to the Government’s call for views last year, in order to illustrate how their voices have so far been ignored.
This explosion in referral numbers has led to wait times being as long as two years in parts of the country. One of the biggest barriers for getting wait times down is the lack of staff and young people are paying the price for a total absence of workforce planning over the past few years. Any new plan for the NHS workforce needs to include significant measures to increase the numbers of mental health specialists we have working in children and young people's mental health services.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson, please contact the YoungMinds press office on 0203 861 2072 or email email@example.com.
 Since August 2022, data from NHS Digital on the numbers of young people being referred for care, including urgent and emergency referrals, has not been fully published nationally, due to a cyber attack. The data used in this press release are national estimates published by NHS Digital and analysed by YoungMinds.
 NHS Data, referrals starting in reporting period by month.
 Beano Brain for YoungMinds, December 2022.
 ‘Buckling’ NHS fails to treat 250,000 children with mental health problems, The Guardian, Sunday 16 April 2023.
 13,887 young people aged under 25 completed YoungMinds’ survey between 13 June 2022 and 7 July 2022. This sample was self-selecting and is not nationally representative. The responses were shared anonymously with the Government as part of its call for evidence for the ten-year Mental Health Plan.