Children needing mental health support ‘are ping ponged between services’, MPs committee hears

Children and young people are being “ping ponged” around different services when they seek mental health support, MPs have heard.

Samaritans said that children and young people are not getting support “early enough” and they are being passed from “pillar to post” when seeking help.

It comes as one grieving father said that his son was “failed” by his community, school and the NHS before he died of suicide in 2015.

Julie Bentley (pictured), chief executive of Samaritans, told the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “Our real concern is that young people are simply not having access to help early enough, we know that they’re being moved from pillar to post, they’re being ping ponged, and they’re not able to get support until they’re absolutely at crisis point.

“So for us, we are very much of the view that we need to make sure that services can get to young people, much much sooner far before they reach crisis.

“We need to get in there much more earlier, we need a much more preventative approach to this.”

She said that an inquiry last year found that children in need of mental health support were “falling between the gaps” because they were not thought to be serious enough for some services or “too serious” for others.

“They were being sent away until actually their problem had got worse and exacerbated and then they will come back as crisis,” she said.

She said that Samaritans was concerned about increasing rates of self harm, adding that some young people had been told not to discuss the issue because it might “exclude them from being able to access support”.

Meanwhile Professor Louis Appleby, director of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health, said that suicide rates among under 20s are at the highest level in two decades.

Prof Appleby, from the University of Manchester, said up to 2019 – the latest year when figures were available – the rates of suicide among under 20s had been increasing for 10 years.

“Suicide rate in young people in this country is going up,” he said.

“The rate in under 20s, for example, has been rising for about 10 years, and that runs counter to the pattern in the general population.

“If you take the most recent confirmed figures from 2019, so pre-pandemic, the figures for 2019 are the highest figures for young people, broadly speaking, that we’ve had for about 20 years. They have been rising for about 10 years, to a point where the figures are highest for about 20 years.”

Meanwhile, Steve Mallen said that his son Edward’s suicide in 2015 was “not a random event” and that “this occurrence happens on a daily basis”.

Mr Mallen, who is the co-founder of the Zero Suicide Alliance, told MPs: “I lost my son Edward, six years ago to suicide.

“He was 18 at the time but one of the points to note about Edward, he was an incredibly capable young man from a good family, from a good background, and he was not affected by many of the social and economic issues which were known to be drivers of mental illness and suicide, and so on.

“Self harm and suicide prevention obviously as a pan society issue, it is everybody’s business.

“Clearly, the effect on my family was devastating.

“It is sometimes said that these instances, although rare are not necessarily that common, and what we learn from Edward’s story, together with many others, is that this occurrence happens on a daily basis.

“What happened to my son was not a random event, it wasn’t like being struck by lightning or the random acts of whatever God you happen to believe in.

“Unfortunately, he became very ill, very quickly, and he was failed by his community by his school and also most especially by the NHS.

“And so what we really learned from that is that self harm and suicide as I say, is a serious issue in society now – we’ve had a lot of evidence this morning about the growing proliferation of these issues, and my son is basically part of that very tragic narrative.”

– Anyone in need of confidential emotional support yourself, you can call Samaritans free on 116 123, email them at [email protected]

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