Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Number of under-18s in contact with mental health, learning disability and autism services rises by nearly one third

More than three million people were in contact with mental health, learning disability and autism services in 2022, according to the latest NHS digital data.

The overall total has risen by almost a fifth in the last three years, with a significant rise (29%) in the number of under 18s in contact with these services.

16-year-old girls were among those the most affected, with nearly a quarter (23%) seeking support in the past 12 months.

The news comes as a new report from the NHS revealed that one in four 17-19-year olds in England had a probable mental disorder in 2022 – an increase from one in six in 2021.

In light of these findings, experts are warning that NHS mental health services could be facing a “perfect storm” due to a rise in demand and lack of availability.

Just last month, The Guardian reported that there are a growing number of children with mental health problems being treated on adult psychiatric wards due to a lack of child inpatient or community outreach service availability.

The number of autistic people in inpatient facilities is growing

Separate data from the NHS also reveals that in October 2022, there were 2,000 autistic people and people with learning disabilities in inpatient mental health hospitals in England.

While there has been some progress in moving people with learning disabilities out of hospital and into the community, the number of autistic people in inpatient facilities has increased from 28% in 2015 to 62% in 2022 (1,240 people).

In fact, nearly all (95%) of under 18s in inpatient facilities in England are autistic.

The National Autistic Society is now developing a mental health module designed to help professionals, parents and carers better support autistic people aged 13 to 18 years old.

Government must ensure young people can access support

Sophie Corlett, Interim CEO for Mind said it is “deeply worrying” that so many young people are experiencing a mental health problem.

She said reports of poor mental health have stayed “consistently high” since the pandemic, “suggesting that an entire cohort have remained in heightened states of distress for years following the educational, social and economic upheaval of Covid-19.”

“We’re also seeing the toll of the cost-of-living crisis on young adults with mental health problems, who were seven times more likely than their peers without mental health problems to have used food banks or experienced food insecurity in the last year.

“Despite the need for support continuing to rise, young people are still left facing an agonising wait in a system that cannot keep up with demand, and the UK government’s response so far has just not been good enough,” she added.

Mind is now calling on the government to invest in young people’s mental health services, as well as learning disability and autism services, so that young people can access support as and when they need it.

“Young people and their families cannot be side-lined any longer by the government, who need to prioritise the crisis in youth mental health as a matter of national emergency,” she concludes.

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