FOR Annie Arkwright, the fact that huge numbers of young people are seeking mental health support comes as no surprise.

The mum of two from Shropshire has been calling for better support for teens since her 19-year-old daughter Lily took her own life in 2020.




Now, new research claims more than one in three teenagers has been prescribed antidepressants, a figure that has escalated since the pandemic.

According to the poll by youth mental health charity stem4, around 37 per cent of youngsters aged 12 to 18 say they have been offered the drugs by doctors.

It comes as struggling NHS services are being forced to turn desperate kids away.

According to the NHS, rates of probable mental health disorders have increased since 2017.

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In six to 16-year-olds, the increase has been from one in nine (11.6 per cent) to one in six (17.4 per cent).

In 17 to 19-year-olds, the figure has risen from one in ten (10.1 per cent) to one in six (17.4 per cent).

NHS figures show children and young people waiting to start mental health care or undergoing treatment in England reached 420,314 in February — the highest figure since records began in 2016.

And those numbers have increased 54 per cent since February 2020 and by 24 per cent in the past year.

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In Scotland, 4,544 youngsters started treatment between October and December in 2021 — an increase of 19.8 per cent on the previous quarter, up 11.1 per cent from 2020.

Meanwhile 1,570 youngsters had been waiting more than a year for treatment at the end of 2021.

“I want something positive to come out of Lily’s death,” says Annie, 52.

“Lily had a natural empathy. She would always be there for her friends if they needed a shoulder or a listening ear.

“She knew how important it was for everyone to have someone they could talk to.”

Demand is so unrelenting that the NHS needs to fill 22,000 roles to support 13 to 17-year-olds with severe mental-health problems, including self-harm and depression.

The pandemic has a lot to answer for, and researchers at the University of Cambridge have warned it may have a lasting impact on young people’s mental health.

Covid lockdowns played a role in Lily’s death, too.

The Cardiff University student, who did not have a history of mental-health distress, was in her second year of studies when the country went into lockdown.

“I first noticed she was feeling low and having ‘off days’ shortly after she started her second year,” remembers Annie.

“She’d moved out of halls and into a shared house. She found she was struggling to acclimatise under restricted conditions.

“Lily was a conscientious girl and became concerned over meeting deadlines and the consequences for her grades and future successes.”

‘We know more young people are lonely’

During a visit home in October, 2020, the bright and bubbly teen took her own life, leaving behind her mum and brother Jonty, 18.

They have devoted themselves to making sure other families don’t have to endure what they have had to and they are now working with youth suicide prevention charity Papyrus (papyrus-uk.org).

Papyrus chief executive Ged Flynn says: “The number of calls, texts and emails to our HopeLineUK service has increased by more than 25 per cent in the past two years.”

He believes official statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.

He says: “We know more young people are feeling lonely and distressed, and are struggl­ing to cope with life.

“It is important we work together to keep our communities suicide-safe and that young people know they are not alone and help is available.”

Psychiatrist Elaine Lockhart, chair of the children and young person faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says an already bad situation for children’s mental health was made worse by Covid.

“Since 2010, a lot of funding and early intervention programmes provided by local authorities have been cut, so when the pandemic hit, those vulnerable young people started becoming more and more mentally unwell.

“There weren’t the services to cope with the numbers.

“The pandemic severely affected adult mental health in a negative way, too, and a lot of those adults are parents, so their children felt the impact of that.

“There were increasing numbers of adults with higher stress levels and alcohol dependency.

“There was more domestic violence, and kids suffer when that happens.”

'It can’t be overstated how serious this mental health pandemic is for young people'

Elaine says eating disorders soared too, and have the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition.

She says: “I was seeing the number of young people in a month I’d expect to see in a year.

“It can’t be overstated how serious this mental health pandemic is for young people — any parent with a young person waiting on a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) list will know this already.”

Government figures reveal, on average, Clinical Commissioning Groups spend less than one per cent of their budget on children’s mental health.

This means 75 per cent of young people wait so long their mental health condition gets worse or they can’t access any treatment.

Lily would have graduated with a degree in history this summer, but instead her mum is hoping her story will save someone else’s life.

Annie says: “I promise you, if you are struggling or you know someone who you think might be struggling, there is always someone out there who cares and who will support you.

“Look out for others.

“Please don’t think suicide is something that won’t happen in your family or to anyone you know and love. It doesn’t just happen to other people.

“Talking about suicide openly will make it less likely to happen, not more.

“No family is immune — in our case, it was a matter of life and death.”

Signs to look for

  • Significant changes in behaviour
  • Ongoing difficulty sleeping
  • Self-harm or self-neglect
  • Withdrawing from social situations
  • Not wanting to do things they usually like

Waiting game

AMANDA Elias, 41, from Ammanford, Carmar­thenshire, says her nine-year-old daughter Aryana, who suffers with separation anxiety, is yet to receive help despite being referred to CAMHS a year ago.

She says: “Aryana is not the same child she was before the lockdowns and the longer we wait, the more I worry she’ll never be the same again.

“If we were on a daily walk and a child came near her, she’d run to me and hide behind me.

"She used to love being outside but wanted to go out less and less.

“She has been physically sick when she has tried to stay with a friend or her grandparents.

“I’m trying to deal with it on my own but as a parent you’re so scared that what you are doing might make things worse, not ­better.

“I’m her mum, not a mental health professional.”

What parents can do

PSYCHIATRIST Elaine Lockhart says: “If your child or young person is on a CAMHS waiting list or you’ve seen your GP and are awaiting a referral or further help, there are things you can do.”

SELF REFER: Talking therapy self referral can make a huge difference.

The NHS website has details of therapists in your local area, so you can track down one who suits you and your child

TALK IT OUT: A lot of parents don’t want to mention self harm, suicide or mental health to their children because they don’t want to give them ideas but research shows talking about it doesn’t mean young people are more likely to be susceptible.

Try starting a conversation with: “You don’t seem yourself lately, what’s going on?” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit quiet – how are you?”

CONTACT SCHOOL: There used to be more joined up thinking between CAMHS, schools and parents, so talk to teachers – you’ll either make them aware or they might flag up things you didn’t know.

FIND A YOUTH HUB: Some areas have youth hubs that offer social, health and education services all under one roof, so your child or young person can access help in an integrated setting.

They might meet like-minded people too.

GO ONLINE: There are lots of online resources for young people struggling with their mental health.

As well as the RCPsych site (rcpsych.ac.uk), Youngminds.org.uk is a great site, and app MindEd has lots of online learning programmes to support mental health too.

CALL YOUR GP: If you’re on the CAMHS waiting list and feel things have become more serious for your child, go back to your GP.

They may be able to move you further up the list if your child is at higher risk.

FEEL RELIEF: It can come as a relief to listen to what your child is going through, if they’re able to discuss their feelings with you.

Don’t pressure them to open up, but make sure they know you are there for them.

Sit with them and acknowledge what they’re going through.

Learning mentors were ‘amazing support’

MEGAN Lomax’s son George, 16, has received help from CAMHS on and off for eight years.

Megan, 53, from Hackney, East London, says while it has been helpful in her case, there’s a lack of joined-up thinking that could make the service more streamlined.


“George was first referred to CAMHS when he was around eight,” says Megan who is the owner of rubbastuff.com.

“His grandfather had just died and we were struggling to cope.

"We were given CAMHS support with a First Steps programme that concentrated on mental health and emotional wellbeing.

"It helped us a lot. Aged ten he was given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

“Transitioning to secondary school was daunting but he was given learning mentors at school who were an amazing support.

"Without them, we wouldn’t have got him to go.”

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She continues: “In 2019 things got a bit overwhelming while he was working towards his GCSEs and then lockdown hit.

“We struggled through it and when things opened up properly again, George seemed to settle a bit more.”

You’re Not Alone

EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.

It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.

And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.

The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

  • CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
  • Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
  • Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
  • Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
  • Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
  • Movember, www.uk.movember.com
  • Anxiety UK www.anxietyuk.org.uk, 03444 775 774 Monday-Friday 9.30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm

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