Untreated mental health issues for children and young people whilst on waiting lists cost public services an estimated £75m per year.

This report, commissioned by teenage mental health charity stem4, assesses the annual ongoing costs to the wider public sector from young people on waiting lists for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

stem4 is a charity that promotes positive mental health in teenagers and those who support them including their families and carers, education professionals, as well as school nurses and GPs through the provision of mental health education, resilience strategies and early intervention.

To calculate the potential costs, we follow a three-step approach. First, we take the average service costs per month for individuals on CAMHS waiting lists. Then we assess the average waiting period, and finally combine this with data on the number of people treated by CAMHS in 2018/19.

We find that:

  • The 380,000 children and young people treated by specialist NHS Children’s mental health teams in England in 2018/19 waited an average of just over 7 weeks for treatment.
  • The untreated mental health issues for these children and young people whilst on waiting lists are expected to cost public services an estimated £75m per year, the equivalent of around £200 per child receiving treatment.
  • However, an estimated 87,000 (23%) of these children have to wait more than 12 weeks, costing other public services an average of nearly £500 per child.
  • More than 90% of these costs are incurred by schools, with the remainder falling to social care and other health services
  • 35% of children and young people referred to specialist NHS children's mental health teams had their referrals closed before they received treatment as their conditions were seen as not severe enough or inappropriate for treatment. This means that the costs of children’s untreated mental health conditions could be significantly higher than these estimates.

While a shortage of good quality published evidence makes it impossible to be certain, we believe that our analysis is likely to be conservative. It demonstrates that decisions around the resourcing and prioritisation of children’s mental health services cannot be made in isolation from decisions in other key services – the knock-on consequences have the potential to be significant.

Download the report