The number of under-18s getting NHS help for mental health issues in England nearly halved in the first two months of lockdown.
Young people who weren’t able to get support say they felt like they “didn’t really matter”.
Lucy, who’s 17, says she she didn’t know where to go for help.
The number of people in England referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) dropped 47% in April and May, compared with last year.
CAMHS is the name for NHS mental health support for people until they are 18.
Replies to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from 40 NHS Trusts in England showed 22,735 patients were referred, compared to 42,887 patients in the same two months last year.
Another 10 Trusts weren’t able to answer within the deadline.
The exclusive data was obtained by Radio 1 Newsbeat.
Charities worry a drop like this could happen again if we see a second spike and further lockdowns around the UK.
Lucy, who’s from Manchester, had gone to her school for counselling before – but when she wanted help in lockdown, her school was closed.
She didn’t feel she could go to her GP either.
“There were no face-to-face appointments which was a bit problematic, because it’s really hard to talk about mental health online.”
Lucy ended up going for treatment privately after lockdown – she says she’s lucky that her mum had private health insurance to help pay for it.
“Everything goes so much quicker when you go privately, but that’s a privilege most young people don’t have,” she says.
“I knew I probably wasn’t going to be able to get any help from CAMHS.”
The drop in referrals in lockdown “is likely to be because of school closures and the increased difficulties of going to your GP,” says Emma Thomas, chief executive at mental health charity YoungMinds.
She adds it might have also been because of “some young people choosing not to look for help at a time when the NHS was under so much pressure.”
But she believes many under-18s needed mental health support more than usual at that time, because of fears about the virus, social isolation, the loss of routine and in some cases, losing someone they cared about.
“The combination of worsening mental health and reduced support could create a surge in demand over the coming months,” she warns.
‘You feel like you should just give up’
After someone is referred to CAMHS, the service decides if they will be given treatment.
As you’d expect from the drop in referrals, the FOI data also showed 40% fewer patients were accepted for help in April and May this year compared to in 2019.
Olivia is 16 and was referred to CAMHS by her GP in March.
She says the worry and stress of her GCSEs, the divorce of her parents, and the social isolation in lockdown made her feel completely alone.
But although she was referred, she was then rejected for treatment twice in lockdown.
She says it made her feel like she “didn’t really matter” and “making a big deal out of nothing.”
“You feel like you should just give up because nobody really cares.”
Olivia thinks pressure on health services in the pandemic played a part in the rejections, as she had been treated with CAMHS previously and was told she could come back to the service in future.
“Accessing the service was difficult pre-Covid, but it’s certainly much, much harder since Covid hit,” she says.
“It was quite apparent, or my instinct said, the reason it was more difficult was because of Covid.
“It certainly impacted on our situation and made it a much more lengthy process.”
It was only after a third referral – and lockdown restrictions lifted – that Olivia got treatment in August.