Rise in eating disorders and mental health problems in children

The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) team is providing an outstanding service,

The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) team is providing an outstanding service, according to the Care Quality Commission. - Credit: Archant

The number of children being referred to mental health services in North Somerset has increased by 10 per cent in the past year.

There has also been a big increase in eating disorders during the past two years.

According to mental health experts, these worrying figures are due to cuts in support for more mild mental health problems which mean children do not get the help they need early on.

Dr Patricia Tallis, clinical lead for specialist community children’s services in North Somerset, said: “Before the cuts, there had been a lot of investment in children’s mental health. The austerity cuts came in and funding to adult social care and children’s healthcare was reduced.

“This has meant services for children with less severe mental health problems have vanished. A lot of counselling and support in the schools and the vulnerable learners’ service have all been reduced quite significantly.


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“There isn’t a lot of support now for mild mental health problems and if they don’t resolve by themselves, they become severe and they come into specialist mental health services.

“As a result, we’ve seen an increase in children with severe mental health problems. Referral rates to our services increased by around 10 per cent last year.

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“The number of young people suffering from eating disorders has also doubled in the past two years.

“There are charities and small organisations setting up to try to meet that need, but because it’s piece-meal due to funding it doesn’t have an impact on the referrals coming our way.”

Dr Tallis works with the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) team, which is run by the Weston Area Health NHS Trust.

CAHMS has been rated outstanding by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and staff have been taking on additional training to ensure it provides the best help available.

Patients referred to the service are offered an appointment within 18 weeks, which meets the Department of Health’s targets, but staff say the wait is often significantly shorter.

Dr Tallis said: “We’ve tried to make sure what we offer is the best evidence-based treatment.

“We look at referrals very carefully and we triage them, so if something looks dangerous they will be offered an urgent appointment. Eighteen weeks is the maximum wait for an appointment, but 11 weeks is the average.”

The team has also been working with GPs, schools and people who are vulnerable to developing eating orders such as dancers and athletes to try to catch problems at an earlier stage.

Dr Tallis added: “One of the strengths of the service is that we are a group of services that work together. We don’t rest on our laurels and we are always looking at ways to streamline our processes.”

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