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Is There a Mental Health Crisis in the UK?

When a respected organisation like the Children’s Society reports that the level of self-harming among teenagers is at unprecedented levels, you may be forgiven for thinking that the UK really is in a crisis with its mental health. According to a report published by the society in August, at least 100,000 kids have self-harmed by the age of 14.

Their study found that the situation was worse among girls than boys with approaching a quarter of all mid-teen girls reporting that they had indulged in some form of self-harm as a result of poor mental health.

Obesity and Mental Health

This news followed a report made by NHS Digital earlier in the month which highlighted obesity among youngsters. Their study pointed out that 11,375 appointments were made with doctors by people under 20 years of age to address being overweight.

Although obesity and mental health are not intrinsically linked, the fact remains that children and youths who are overweight can also suffer from other disorders, such as insomnia and having difficulty breathing.

It is also possible that overweight teenagers will find they are subject to a greater likelihood of abuse, social isolation and even bullying which can all add to strains on mental health.

So, does the UK face a crisis in mental health or is the issue being hyped up by the press?

Mental health services

The problem with making a fair assessment of whether the UK is in the midst of a true crisis with its mental health services is that the issue has become something of a political football. Although the government claims that it has put more money into the NHS and specifically earmarked funds for mental health services, opposition parties are fairly uniform in their condemnation of current policies which, they claim, are either failing the needs of patients or is, at least, too patchy across the country.

The fact is that any patient suffering from a bout of poor mental health in the UK could receive first class service and be referred to a specialist in mental health problems from their GP without any significant issues. The problem with this picture, however, is that anecdotal evidence from patients and the evidence from most studies that have been conducted into mental health services in the UK in recent years points to a system which is overburdened and underfunded.


For example, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children announced in May that almost 35,000 referrals were made to a child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) within the NHS in the last reporting year. This, they claimed, represented a rise in referrals of almost two fifths in just four years. Their report came out shortly after Javed Khan – the chief executive of Barnardo’s, the UK’s largest children’s charity – had claimed that CAMHS services were so overstretched that youngsters would only receive help in the worst cases, such as severe self-harming episodes or even suicide attempts.


Louise Regan, a former president of the National Education Union, told the press that she felt teachers had become overwhelmed by the sheer number of schoolchildren who were developing the early signs of mental health problems. This is in spite of the government’s much vaunted £300 million funds for mental health issues that arise in schools which were announced last December.

Although any new funding that will help in the fight against child and youth mental health disorder is undoubtedly welcome, critics have pointed out that the funding is not-UK wide and that it will be assessed only after pilot schemes have been completed in forthcoming years.

Mental Health Services

Despite the arguments that will no doubt continue to rage about mental health services in the UK, particularly when it comes to child and youth services, help can be sought from a variety of sources. The NHS remains a good first port of call but there are also self-help groups that can be beneficial in virtually every town and city in the country.

Charitable organisations

There are a number of charitable organisations which can help point you in the right direction, such as MIND, Childline, Depression Alliance and the Mental Health Foundation, to name but a few.

When a crisis takes place, a private consultation may be the answer to speeding up the process of obtaining help while a referral to an NHS service is sought. The most important thing is to act and not to give up because of the challenges the current system faces.

Sources: Guardian, Time to Change, Children’s Society, NHS, Mental Health Foundation, National Education Union

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