Child mental health – ten year delay before help, expert reactions

Children and young people with mental health difficulties go an average of ten years between first becoming unwell and first getting any help, according to an evidence review published today by Centre for Mental Health.

Missed Opportunities, by Lorraine Khan, reviews recent evidence about the mental health of children and young people in the UK. It finds that mental health problems are very common among young people, but awareness is poor and most attempts by parents to get help for their children are unsuccessful.

This means there is an average delay of ten years in receiving help. For many children and young people, this decade of delay sees their problems multiply and get progressively worse, eventually escalating into a crisis.

Expert reaction from Panos Vostanis, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Leicester:

“One in ten children suffer from mental health problems of different kinds at an time. These rates go up in the presence of vulnerabilities and trauma (for example, up to four times for children in public care). These mental health problems are usually predicted by a number of risk factors. Early and prompt intervention needs to target both the mental health problems and those factors in the family, school and community that place the child at risk.

There is evidence from longitudinal research that, without such early help, there are strong continuities in these problems continuing or recurring in later life. As there is also strong evidence of high levels of undetected problems and unmet needs because of limited access to services. These two pieces of evidence can contribute to late interventions, although it is difficult to indicate the proportion from available studies.”

Comment from Mina Fazel, NIHR Post-doctoral Research Fellow and Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, University of Oxford:

“I would say that from our experience, many children receive good support at school by a host of different natural supports within the school system and it is not always approapriate for children to be seen by mental health services at the first sign of mental health problems.

What is important is that when the problems are impacting on their ability to learn or maintain family and social relationships; or if they are experiencing distress then they need to be able to access services. It can be difficult for children and young people to know how to access services, and so we are developing school-based mental health services in Oxfordshire to try and make services more accessible for those children atending school. This will hopefully make a big difference to their ability to access servces in a timely manner.”

Notes to journalists: Professor Vostanis research can be found here: and here:

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