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Father of Molly Russell slams long children’s mental health service waiting times as ‘tragedy’

Ian Russell said the government seemed to be failing in pledges to invest in children’s mental health

Alexander Butler,Rebecca Thomas
Wednesday 24 January 2024 18:02 GMT
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Ian Russell said long CAMHS waiting times were a ‘tragedy’ and ‘intolerable’ for children and families
Ian Russell said long CAMHS waiting times were a ‘tragedy’ and ‘intolerable’ for children and families (PA Archive)

The father of a 14-year-old girl who killed herself slammed long children’s mental health service waiting times as a “tragedy” and said the UK was failing to protect young people.

Ian Russell, whose daughter Molly Russell killed herself in 2017 after viewing harmful content on social media, said long waiting times were “intolerable” for children and families.

It comes after The Independent revealed just under 300,000 children across Britain were waiting for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) treatment with an average wait time of 107 days.

The NHS figures, analysed by The Independent, show that a record 496,897 under-18s had been referred by a GP for treatment under Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) at the end of November last year – up from 493,434 the month before.

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Molly Russell took her own life in November 2017 after viewing harmful content online (PA Media)

Of those, a total of 289,047 children have been approved for treatment under mental health services but are still waiting to have their first appointment – an increase of 50,000 in just two months.

In one area – Halton, in Cheshire – figures show that some children have been waiting for four and a half years to be seen by a mental health professional.

Mr Russell told The Independent: “It is a tragedy every time a young person has to wait to be seen for treatment and support for a mental health problem.”

“We wouldn’t accept it if someone broke their leg and had to wait up to 107 days before it could be mended. It is intolerable.

“The government repeatedly promises investing in mental health, and it does seem it is failing deliver in looking after our children.”

Molly Russell’s father Ian Russell (centre), mother Janet Russell (right) and her sister (left). Her father said long CAMHS waiting lists were a ‘tragedy’ (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

Tom Madders, whose charity Young Minds analysed the figures, said: “Another month of record referrals is further proof of the youth mental health emergency. This is incredibly distressing. Behind every referral is a young person struggling to cope and calling for help from a broken system.

“How much worse does the situation need to get before the government is prompted to do something about it? Every young person should be able to access the mental health support they need when they need it, and we need urgent action from the government to make this a reality.”

After losing Molly six years ago, Mr Russell now campaigns for tighter regulation around harmful content on social media and increased suicide prevention for people under the age of 25.

The schoolgirl from Harrow, northwest London, died from “an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content”, an inquest concluded two years ago.

She was found dead in her bedroom after viewing the content related to suicide, depression and anxiety online, the coroner said.

The Online Safety Act was passed last year and aims to regulate harmful content online accessed by young people. Mr Russell has previously said it would have failed if harmful content was not removed as a result.

Mr Russell added: “Physical health and mental health should be treated as equally important and we should have a health service that can deliver in a better way than it currently does.

“The mental health of children is something society should invest in. I would have thought all political parties would want to invest in it.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson told The Independent: “We are determined to do everything we can to support children and young people with their mental health, which is why we are investing an additional £2.3bn a year into NHS mental health services. This will mean 345,000 more children and young people will be able to access NHS-funded support.

“We are also extending coverage of mental health support teams to at least 50 per cent of pupils in England by the end of March 2025.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. Alternatively, letters can be mailed to: Freepost SAMARITANS LETTERS.

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