It was announced (Feb 7th 2024) that the number of children referred to emergency mental healthcare in England has soared by more than 50% in three years, according to data laying bare the impact of lengthy waiting lists for regular treatment.

There were 32,521 emergency and urgent referrals to CAMHS 2022-23, analysis of official data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists revealed. In 2019-20, the year before the Covid pandemic, the figure was 21,242. The increase means more than 600 mentally ill children a week are deteriorating to such a state that they have reached crisis point.

Many of the children requiring emergency care – some suicidal or seriously ill as a result of eating disorders – have been stuck on waiting lists for an average of five months, and in the worst cases as long as two years, the college said.

MPs and health leaders said the figures exposed a “devastating explosion” of untreated severe mental ill health among children, and should be a wake-up call for the government. There was now a serious risk that the alarming surge in children reaching crisis point before being able to access help was becoming “the new norm”, they added.

Record numbers of children and young people are seeking help for mental health problems. In 2022 alone, 1.4 million were reffered to CAMHS for treatment of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other psychological problems.

 “Every young person should be able to access the help they need when they need it. The government must prioritise young people’s mental health and make it much easier for them to get support.”
Laura Bunt
(Chief Executive of Young Minds)
But as demand soars for children’s mental healthcare and support, CAMHS teams are struggling to see or treat children quickly enough. Experts say that is leading to thousands of under-18s getting even sicker while on waiting lists, prompting a 53% rise in emergency and urgent referrals for CAMHS crisis care.
 “The evidence shows us that children who receive support quickly are less likely to develop long-term conditions that negatively affect their education, social development and health in later life.”
Dr Elaine Lockhart (RCP)
An emergency referral is normally made if a child needs to be seen within 24 hours. They might be a risk to themselves due to suicidal feelings, have a significant health risk because of an illness such as anorexia or have another serious mental health condition, experts said.

“Government and integrated care boards must commit to reducing the rate of mental illness among children by setting an achievable target. This needs to be backed by an expansion of the mental health workforce and additional funding for services.”

“This devastating explosion of mental ill health among children should be a wake-up call for the government. Conservative ministers have neglected children’s mental health during and after the pandemic, leaving mental health services and families in crisis.”
Daisy Cooper MP
Animation is a cost effective resource, essentially free once the initial video has been produced. It can provide a creative and relatable way for presenting problems to be explained to children and young adults. It can be translated into foreign languages. It can be updated very quickly to include for example the latest contact details of local support groups. Perhaps most importantly, the animation can be posted on social media so it reaches those who might be isolating through shame and stigma.

Animation has to be considered part of any multi modal intervention as this crisis in children’s healthcare continues to get worse.

Benefits of animation

  • Animation is accessible, especially via social media, and completely free to air for people who require it (via mobile phones).
  • Animation can reach cohorts who struggle to read and write, eg those with a neurodivergence (20% of the population) and/or SEND (15% of the population).
  • Animation can be translated to reach people for whom English is not the first language.
  • Waiting times for CAMHS and community mental health services is typically months – from script to screen, an animation can be created in two weeks, making it ideal for ‘disaster’ work.
  • Animation voiceovers can be quickly translated and revoiced in any language at a rough cost of only £1000.
  • While the initial animation can cost about £10k, subsequent digital copies are completely free (unlike print). Small amendments to ‘end slates’ to, for example, localise helpline numbers cost very little, so one trauma video can be used 10,000 times nationally at pretty much no extra cost. • Animation works brilliantly across all social media channels so it’s instantly and freely accessible and provides a ‘language’ for the person and their caregivers to understand what’s going on.
  • Still images can be taken from the animation and used within other collateral. For example, a dozen still images can be laid out in front of a child, enabling them to choose which image from the animation spoke to them (a good way to introduce tricky subjects, eg sexual abuse).