Children with mental health issues forced to wait up to 18 months for help

2,229 children with 'serious mental health and behavioural problems' are on a waiting list for an initial assessment, with over a third waiting longer than six months
Children with mental health issues forced to wait up to 18 months for help

'Waiting times can be long and children’s conditions often worsen while they wait to be seen'. Picture: iStock

Childhood mental health disorders are on the increase, according to a submission by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to an Oireachtas health committee.

But because mental health services are “under-resourced”, children are waiting up to 18 months in some cases to access certain care services.

The IMO said 2,229 children with “serious mental health and behavioural problems” are on a waiting list for an initial assessment with a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) team, with over a third waiting longer than six months

And the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) described access for children and their families to  CAMHS as “problematic”.

In its submission to the Joint Committee of the Oireachtas on Health Sub-Committee on Mental Health and the Impact of Covid on Society, the INMO also said there were “restrictive referral criteria”.

Dr Brian Osborne, ICGP assistant medical director, said: “Waiting times can be long and children’s conditions often worsen while they wait to be seen.

“A particular problem in the service is when children are 17 to 18 years old when they fall between CAMHS and adult services and referrals are rejected by both services.

“To state the obvious, this is detrimental to the care of these patients.

Access to psychology in primary care is haphazard and again has long waiting times.

“For example, at present in Galway there is an 18-month wait for this service.

“Counselling in Primary Care (CIPC) has increasing waiting times and the service is limited.” 

He said those with moderate to severe psychological problems, long-standing depression, severe anxiety, behavioural problems or personality disorders are “precluded” from accessing CIPC.

Access to the HSE’s short-term counselling service is only available to adults over 18 years who are medical cardholders and experiencing mild to moderate psychological and emotional difficulties.

In their own submission, Dr Sumi Dunne from the IMO’s GP Committee, said: “The incidence of mental health disorders in children and adolescents is growing with studies showing that as many as one in six young teenagers show evidence of diagnosable mental disorders.

“However specialist child and adolescent mental health services are equally under-resourced. As a result 2,229 young people with serious mental health and behavioural problems are on a waiting list for an initial assessment with a CAMHS team, with over a third waiting longer than six months.” 

The IMO told the committee it believes Covid-19 has had significant psychological effects on people across the country.

Dr Denis McCauley, chair of the GP Committee of the IMO and Dr Dunne, were addressing the committee on the impact of Covid-19 on the demand for mental health care and access at primary care level.

The two GPs told the committee there was a growing incidence of common mental health problems and more marked neuropsychiatric disorders associated with the pandemic.

These can, they said, arise from direct effects of infection and of long Covid-19 syndrome with enforced isolation and quarantine and with additional stressors arising from abnormal bereavement, job losses, inter-familial tensions or sudden impoverishment.

They can present with an acute psychiatric diagnosis or an “exacerbation of previous issues” including domestic violence or increased alcohol or drug use.

The IMO GPs criticized the lack of funding for mental health in General Practice despite the fact that up to 90% of mental health issues are managed in General Practice without referral to specialist mental health services.

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