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, 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.”
Ms Bentley continued: “We are seeing young people talk more about mental health – that’s brilliant that young people are able to talk about it, but we need to not let them down.
“Because actually, if they come and say: ‘I’ve got a problem, I’m in trouble’ but what they’re then finding is they’re being buffeted around from pillar to post, or being given the message that their issues aren’t serious enough yet.
“Actually what we’re going to see is young people feeling like they have to have escalated to a point of real crisis before they’re able to get help.”
She added: “On our helpline, self harm is an issue that comes up tremendously and certainly in the last year or so, our volunteers tell us that they are seeing an increase in contacts from young people about self harm as a coping mechanism.
“And we’re also hearing from young people who had self harmed in the past, who were returning to it as a result of trying to cope with things.
“And the most common thing that we hear from young people who phone Samaritans, is that they are struggling to get access to mental health services and that’s causing increased concern and exacerbation to them.”
Asked about online influences, She added: “I think that the generation of young people now are exposed to so much more than previous generations were through the fact that we live in a global 24-hour online world.
“And I think the reality is that that isn’t going to change and so what we need to do is we need to make sure our young people are supported and equipped to respond and to deal with that.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “The pandemic has hit young people particularly hard and in some areas, staff are now treating more children and young people than ever before – the NHS has responded rapidly to the increased demand with a wide range of services available for those who need help, including through 183 mental health support teams working with schools across the country.
“The NHS is playing its part to manage increased demand for mental health in young people by offering help at an earlier stage and so anyone who is struggling and needs support should continue to come forward and get the care they need.”
– Anyone in need of confidential emotional support yourself, you can call Samaritans free on 116 123, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org