HUNDREDS of Scottish children aged between four and ten have been treated for depression, anxiety and stress in the past three years, an investigation by Scotland on Sunday has found.
Eight of Scotland’s 14 health boards provided figures through freedom of information legislation that revealed a total of 1,897 children under ten accessed specialist child and adolescent mental services (CAMHS) last year alone, with at least 5,044 referred for treatment since 2012.
More than 800 primary school-age children have been treated for stress, anxiety and depression specifically over the past three years in health board areas where a breakdown was available.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde reported treating one patient aged four and two five-year-olds last year for stress, anxiety or mild depression.
Last night the figures were branded as “shocking” by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume, who called for mental and physical health services to be considered equal under law.
The Scottish Government pledged last month to increase investment in mental health provision by £85 million to reduce lengthy waits for treatment after many health boards failed to meet targets.
Dr Anne McFadyen, chair of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Scotland, said: “A lot of the people referred to CAMHS services will be there for behavioural issues and diagnostic issues such as ADHD.
“We want to put a spotlight on young children as while you wouldn’t diagnose a baby with ADHD, there are things we could do to help families cope as early relationships can have a big impact on mental health. Pressures from school and family life are affecting young children, but these build up layer upon layer over genetic issues. We often see people further down the line and think if we had got to that earlier maybe things would be different.”
The lack of appropriate inpatient care for children with autism and learning difficulties is placing a burden on stretched CAMHS services. said Sophie Pilgrim, director of charity Kindred, which is a member of the the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition.
She said: “Because there are no wards which are set up for children with learning difficulties then they can be placed on adult wards or CAMHS ones. This can be really inappropriate and damaging for them but they are the only places for them to go.
“I think CAMHS services across Scotland are crying out for help on this. We have all these patients and families who are just not getting the support and treatment they need.”
Statistics published by ISD Scotland last month show that only 78.9 per cent of under-18s were seen within the Scottish Government’s 18-week target during the first quarter of 2015. Ministers have ordered health boards to see 90 per cent of patients within the time limit, replacing a previous target of 26 weeks.
The Scottish Government insists this spike has been caused by more people seeking help, with a 35 per cent increase in the number of young people starting treatment over the last two years.
Reacting to the new statistics, Jim Hume MSP said: “These shocking figures underline just how important it is that mental health services are supported properly.
“We know that there are not enough treatment places for children and young people. With children as young as four years old needing treatment, this is not good enough.
“It is long past time that the Scottish Government started taking mental ill health seriously, starting by putting equality between physical and mental health services in law.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “We cannot afford to allow a generation of youngsters to suffer unaided from mental health problems.”
Health boards in Tayside, Orkney, Lothian, Fife, Forth Valley and Western Isles did not have the specific data available or said it would cost too much to find the answers.
Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, said: “We are committed to ensuring that children and young people, of any age, get access to high quality mental health services.”
He said some of the extra £85m for mental health services will include funding for children and adolescents, but he was unable to specify how much at this stage.