One in four children rejected for mental health treatment

Almost one in eight young people have a diagnosable mental illness, but yet access to treatment is showing no signs of improving. A new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has revealed that over a quarter of children and young people referred for mental health treatment were rejected last year, with many facing waiting times of up to 65 days.

Imogen Benson

Over a quarter of children referred for mental health treatment were rejected last year, amounting to 133,000 children and young people, according to the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

The EPI’s annual report on access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) has revealed that rejection rates have not improved over the last four years, despite an extra £1.4 billion in spending since 2015.

With one in eight children diagnosed with a mental health condition, the nation’s mental health services are under significant strain, costing the country around £105 billion each year. 

The report showed significant regional disparity in mental health treatment, with providers in London rejecting 17 per cent of referrals, compared to approximately 28 per cent in the South, Midlands and East of England, and 22 per cent in the North. According to the report, referrals were most commonly rejected when providers considered young people’s conditions to be unsuitable for treatment or because conditions did not meet eligibility criteria. 

Although the national average median waiting time to begin treatment has fallen by 11 days since 2015, children and young people waited an average of two months to begin treatment in 2019, double the government’s four-week target. 

There appears to be a correlation between the number of referrals accepted and the length of waiting times, with providers in London reporting the longest waiting times (65 days), compared to 49 days in the Midlands and East of England. 

Prioritising young people’s wellbeing

Sian Berry, Co-leader of the Green Party and Mayor of London candidate, said: “It’s shocking to see thousands of vulnerable children and young people referred for issues including self-harm, eating disorders and trauma are still not getting the help they need.

“As Mayor of London, I would focus on preventing things we know can tip people with fragile mental health over the edge, including London’s hidden homelessness crisis.

“When I investigated homelessness in London, I found thousands are forced into sleeping rough on cold and dangerous streets, sofa-surfing or being shunted around in temporary accommodation.

“However, the problem is not widely reported because only one-in-five children and young people feel able to ask the authorities for help with homelessness.

“As Mayor, I will prioritise making sure children and young people have warm, secure homes, which will lay the foundations for good mental and physical health.”


Addressing the underlying causes of mental ill-health, focusing on prevention rather than intervention, is a crucial part of the solution. Alongside social factors such as homelessness, increasing recognition has been granted to the impact that climate change is having on people’s mental wellbeing.

From helplessness to anger, the climate crisis has spurred a multitude of emotional responses, with many people suffering from what was first labelled as ‘eco-anxiety’ by the American Psychological Association in 2017. Defined as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”, eco-anxiety afflicts those who fear for the future of the planet, despairing at the currently inadequate efforts to address the climate emergency.

While such anxiety is existential in parts of the world already experiencing the catastrophic effects of climate change, in the northern hemisphere, according to Ciara Nugent writing in Time, such anxiety is characterised by uncertainty over impacts that are yet to hit.

One of the best solutions put forward for eco-anxiety is to take action either in the form of individual lifestyle changes or calling on governments and business to take the climate emergency seriously, to restore a sense of agency, as demonstrated by the millions of young people taking to the streets as part of the Global Climate Strikes.

You can read the report in full on the EPI website