Children’s Mental Health Crisis

In recent times, we have witnessed an alarming surge in the number of under-18s requiring urgent referrals to NHS mental health crisis teams. This disconcerting trend not only highlights the escalating mental health crisis among our youth but also underscores the pressing need for a comprehensive overhaul of our mental health care system. The story of Charley-Ann Patterson, a young girl who tragically lost her life after being unable to access the mental health support she needed, serves as a poignant reminder of the urgency to address this critical issue.

According to a recent analysis of NHS data by the mental health charity YoungMinds, the number of children struggling with their mental health has reached record levels in England [1, 2]. In May of 2023, over 3,500 urgent referrals of under-18s to mental health crisis teams were recorded— tripling the figures from May 2019. In the year leading up to March 2023, there were 21,555 urgent referrals, marking a 46% increase compared to the previous year.

Several researchers have posited theories as to why there has been such a sudden surge in children seeking mental health support. One of the key factors believed to be at play is the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. These lockdowns, where children were forced to attend virtual classes at home and limit any contact with their peers, had a huge impact on the mental health of kids and teenagers. Researchers studied how these lockdowns affected young people’s mental health and found some important things. They looked at 61 different studies with data from almost 55,000 kids and teens. The studies showed that many young people felt anxious (almost 50%) and sad (over 60%). Some also felt very irritable (over 70%) or angry (over 50%). This means that a lot of young people were having a hard time emotionally. The studies also found that kids and teens who already had mental health struggles were even more affected by the lockdowns. Too much exposure to news about COVID-19 in the media was also linked to feeling worse [4]. This overexposure to stressful news and events, such as the pandemic, is inextricably tied to children’s social media usage.

Many researchers have found links between children’s social media use and poor mental health outcomes. One such study found a direct relationship between children’s feelings of stress and anxiety with time spent on social media [5]. Other factors, such as social media content, were found to contribute to this relationship, with many children and adolescents reporting seeing suicide-related content on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. Further research has shown that this relationship between social media use and negative mental health is even stronger in adolescent girls [6], which is painfully illustrated by Charley-Ann Patterson’s tragic case.

Charley-Ann’s story serves as a heart-wrenching example of the consequences when children in crisis are unable to access the support they desperately need [3]. A bright young girl with her whole life ahead of her, Charley-Ann’s life took a tragic turn when she became the target of cyberbullying. Despite her mother’s efforts to secure mental health support, Charley-Ann found herself caught in a web of systemic failures and lengthy waiting lists. In a world that was rapidly changing due to the pandemic, she was left to navigate her mental health struggles with inadequate resources and diminishing hope. A TikTok video depicting a knot that “couldn’t be untied” only exacerbated her pain, and her visible distress was a cry for help that was tragically unanswered.

Charley-Ann’s case raises a critical question: How many more young lives will we lose before we take decisive action to transform our mental health care system? Her story underscores the urgency to bridge the gap between the demand for mental health support and the resources available. In the words of YoungMinds CEO Laura Bunt, the number of children trying to access mental health support is, “indicative of a system that is broken and a government that has refused to listen to young people demanding change” [1]. We must recognise that every moment a young person is left waiting for help is a moment that their mental health worsens—a fact we cannot afford to ignore any longer.

To address these challenges, rapid and multifaceted approaches are imperative. First, an immediate solution lies in reducing the wait times for mental health support. Increasing funding, resources, and staffing for mental health services is vital to meet the growing demand and provide timely interventions. By doing so, we can help prevent the next tragic case of child suicide. Second, we must provide targeted support to children grappling with the pandemic’s emotional toll. Schools, families, and mental health professionals need to collaborate in offering coping mechanisms, open conversations, and tools to manage stress and anxiety. Finally, parents must play a pivotal role in navigating their children’s social media use. By fostering open communication, setting healthy boundaries, and promoting digital literacy, parents can guide their children towards responsible and mindful online behaviour. Hopefully, through these actions, we can prevent future mental health crises in children and provide swift and efficient support before it is too late.

Adam, St Albans Practitioner



  1. Bawden, A. (2023). Number of children in mental health crisis at record high in England. The Guardian. [online] 15 Aug. Available at: [Accessed 29 Jan. 2024].
  2. YoungMinds (2023). Mental Health Waiting Times Harming Young People. [online] YoungMinds. Available at:
  3. Hall, R. (2022). Bullied 12-year-old struggled to get mental health support before suicide, inquest hears. The Guardian. [online] 12 Oct. Available at:
  4. Panchal, U., Salazar de Pablo, G., Franco, M., Moreno, C., Parellada, M., Arango, C. and Fusar-Poli, P. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 lockdown on child and adolescent mental health: systematic review. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, [online] 1(1). doi:
  5. Keles, B., McCrae, N. and Grealish, A. (2019). A systematic review: The influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, [online] 25(1), pp.79–93. doi:
  6. ‌Twenge, J.M., Haidt, J., Lozano, J. and Cummins, K.M. (2022). Specification curve analysis shows that social media use is linked to poor mental health, especially among girls. Acta Psychologica, [online] 224(224), p.103512. doi: