Young people’s mental health referrals reach record half a million as cost-of-living bites households
Analysis by mental health charity Mind of NHS statistics released today suggest more young people than ever before are seeking help with their mental health. As the UK marks Children’s Mental Health Week, latest data for referrals to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) showed they hit 507,738 by the end of December 2023 - an all-time high.
The figures come after NHS data revealed that the cost-of-living crisis is disproportionately impacting young people with mental health problems. With prices rising over the last two years, more than half of young people with mental health problems (57%) are now from families where at least one parent is struggling to keep up with money.
Managing money and mental health is a two way relationship – when one situation gets worse, the other tends to as well. But this doesn’t just affect the adults managing the money – children and young people in the household are impacted too. For example, a child may experience depression related to their poor living conditions, or going without necessities. One in six (15.3%) young people with a mental health problem now live in households that could not afford to buy enough food or had to use a foodbank, compared to only 3.5% of young people without a mental health problem.
Young people’s mental health may also be affected by feelings of isolation and loneliness due to an inability to afford socialising with friends. More than a quarter of those aged 8 to 16 years (26.8%) with a mental health problem had a parent who could not afford for their child to take part in activities outside school or college, compared to one in ten (10.3%) without.
Danait from London, who is 19 years old, has experienced mental health problems since she was 13, and lived in a household experiencing financial issues. Her Mum, who worked as a cleaner, was a single parent to Danait along with three other siblings, and received Universal Credit to help top up her income. Danait’s family still struggled to afford the necessities, and had to use foodbanks at certain times.
Talking about how growing up in a household struggling with finances affected her mental health, Danait said:
“Having money issues at such a young age, it made me more aware of issues I didn’t know how to handle. I was aware of the money problems as a child, I felt I had to help as a kid. It made me not want to spend money, it made me anxious that I was being a burden. I didn’t want to ask for money for food, or for travel. I just felt like I needed to help my family, I didn’t want to be an extra worry. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat just to save money. I would feel guilty.
“I didn’t go out with my friends. Not being able to have the distraction of hanging out with my friends, I ended up feeling left out. I felt very by myself, and got used to being alone. It still affects me to this day, I self-isolate a lot. I’m not around people as much, I think it stems from that.
“Having these issues also makes you want to avoid speaking about your own issues. If I was upset one day, I felt like I couldn’t tell my mum. I felt like I had to just help her, she needed to get bills paid and go to work. To this day, because of this, I still struggle to ask for help.
“Everyone in the family goes through it when you experience financial problems, so I could never be angry at my Mum for any of this. She’d work a lot, so I wouldn’t see her at times, but I’d never resent her for that. I’m so grateful for what she taught me - while it impacted me, I learned so much from her. Without her, I wouldn’t be alive right now. I’m really proud of her for getting through what we’ve been through.”
With many people continuing to feel the impact of increased prices, Mind is calling for a comprehensive approach to addressing young people’s mental health – by supporting households financially, and by providing mental health hubs for young people.
Nil Guzelgun, Policy & Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:
“The growing number of young people seeking support for their mental health was already a concerning trend before the pandemic, but the increase since 2020 demonstrates just how impactful traumatic events like a global pandemic and a brutal cost-of-living crisis have been for young people’s mental health.
“To help support the rising numbers of young people from struggling with their mental health in financially distressed households, Mind is calling on the UK government to take a two-pronged approach. They should introduce an Essentials Guarantee for households in receipt of Universal Credit, to ensure no child from a household on the very lowest incomes goes without food, heat, or seeing their friends. They also should invest in a network of early support hubs for 11–25-year-olds, where young people can get help when they first need it, rather than being left to reach crisis point and needing more intensive, expensive support later on. Only by addressing the root causes of poor mental health among young people can we address the rising number of people struggling.”