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Call for action over big rise in people waiting for mental health treatment in Northern Ireland

More than 3,200 adults and children will be waiting longer than nine weeks for potentially life-saving mental health treatment by April, it can be revealed.

Health bosses have warned of a shocking rise in the number of patients who will endure extended waits to access mental health services in Northern Ireland.

Figures from the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) have revealed they expect that 888 children will be waiting longer than nine weeks to access Child and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS) by the end of March.

Meanwhile, the number of adults waiting longer than nine weeks for mental health treatment is expected to spiral to 2,384 by the end of March.

This is up from 993 at the end of December - representing a 140% rise in the number of nine-week breaches in a five-month period.

Health bosses have said the current wait time for treatment is "unacceptable", while the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Young People and Children in Northern Ireland have said mental health services are in crisis.

Addressing the health committee on Thursday, Koulla Yiasouma urged politicians to act to address the mental health epidemic among young people.

"It's a dire situation, would you expect us to say we're happy?" she said.

"We all know that there's a crisis. In the last five years there has been a 40% increase in the number of children attending emergency departments having self-harmed.

I can only hope that we can encourage our government to take heed, take action and help change the future nature and shape of our mental health support Karen Shirlow

"Waiting lists are quite astonishing - there were 201 young people waiting longer than the nine-week target in September 2018 and in a year that had trebled to 629."

Her comments come as it can be revealed that the majority of children in Northern Ireland predicted to be waiting longer than nine weeks just for assessment by the end of March, 66% of the 888, will have been referred for step two or step three treatment.

Step two treatment is usually provided to children who are experiencing mild or moderate difficulties, while step three care is normally given to children with moderate or severe mental health and emotional difficulties.

These issues, which include autism, eating disorders, drug abuse and family trauma, have a significant impact on the children's education, ability to socialise and their psychological well-being.

Mental health and trauma therapist Karen Shirlow said urgent action is needed to address the situation.

"We need to understand more clearly what our future needs and to reflect on where investment could take place," she said.

"Our approach to treating depression and anxiety disorders needs to be more trauma informed, given our post-conflict circumstances, this would seem like common sense.

This is not acceptable and all health service organisations will continue to make concerted efforts to reduce waiting times to mental health services and to enhance services HSCB spokeswoman

"I can only hope that we can encourage our government to take heed, take action and help change the future nature and shape of our mental health support."

An HSCB spokeswoman said: "It is well documented that an increase in demand for services, combined with significant financial and workforce shortages, has led to pressures across all services including mental health.

"At the end of December 2019, 993 patients were waiting longer than nine weeks, that compares with 796 in November and 830 patients at the end of October.

"This is not acceptable and all health service organisations will continue to make concerted efforts to reduce waiting times to mental health services and to enhance services.

"In the long-term, we need continued investment and transformation to fundamentally address waiting times."

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