A total of 28% of children referred for mental health support in England in 2015 were sent away without help, some after a suicide attempt, a report says.
The Children’s Commissioner’s review of mental health services also found that 13% with life-threatening conditions were not allowed specialist support.
This group included children who had attempted serious self-harm and those with psychosis and anorexia nervosa.
A government spokesman said no-one should be sent away in need.
The commissioner obtained data from 48 of England’s 60 child and adolescent mental health service trusts.
One trust in north-west England said it focused resources on the most severe cases.
There have been concerns in recent years about the patchy nature of services offered by child and adolescent mental health trusts (CAMHs), with many seemingly unable to cope with local demand.
And school teachers and heads in some areas have highlighted the growing mental health need amongst pupils which are having to be met within schools.
‘Frightened the living daylights out of me’
Ellie Fogden, now 19, sought help when she was 16:
I did not become ill immediately at 16. For a number of years, I felt quite down, so to speak.
It was constant worrying, pressure from school, and my own body image.
I got to a point where I had had enough. I am waking up every day and I am not wanting to be here.
I self-referred to a local counselling service and I was on a waiting list for about three months and then started sessions. The counsellor was very worried and she referred me to CAMHs.
I had to go to the doctor to get a referral and it took about three to four weeks to get a session. I was in there for about three hours and I was just bombarded with so many questions. Some of them I didn’t have the answer for because I didn’t understand what was going on in my head.
I wasn’t taken seriously enough. Some of the questions were dismissed as – it is not that bad, people have it worse. For me, it felt awful. There was no compassion which made it so much worse.
I didn’t go back for another CAMHs appointment. It frightened the living daylights out of me. I finished counselling at this independent service. I wasn’t great but wasn’t as bad.
As I have grown older, it has just gone into a downward spiral where I am currently worse than I was when I was 16, with depression.
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