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A Piece of my Mind: Children’s experiences in the spotlight in new OCO mental health survey

Six in ten children who attended Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the past year had difficulty accessing the service, with nearly half of them (42%) saying the service that they finally received didn’t help with their mental health issues. That’s according to A Piece of my Mind, a new report on children’s mental health from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) which surveyed 2,166 children aged 12-17.

Of the children who took part in the online survey, 6% were using CAMHS at the time, with 12% having accessed CAMHS at some time. Children identified long waiting times as the biggest challenge in accessing CAMHS and many found that when they were seen, the service failed to address their needs.

It is significant that 78% of children surveyed say they’ve experienced some mental health difficulties. The top five causes of mental health difficulties for children were pressure in school (74%), body image (65%), friendships or relationships (61%), social media pressure (48%) and bullying (47%). More girls than boys struggled with their mental health (55% to 44%), while of the 6% of non-binary children or those who identified as other, almost all (94%) said they had some sort of mental health difficulties.

Commenting on the findings of A Piece of my Mind, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, said:

“Children’s mental health and the state of our Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are a major concern for the OCO. In our report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child last year, mental health emerged as the key issue so we wanted to drill down deeper into it with A Piece of my Mind.

“We must remember that for children to have to turn to CAMHS in the first place they have to be really struggling with their mental health. So it simply isn’t good enough that so many of them are having to wait long periods of time to access services, and that when they do, they feel that the standard of those services falls short.

“The children surveyed emphasised the need to have proper mental supports available to them in school. This is something the OCO has been calling for, and we welcome recent plans from the Department of Education for a pilot programme in primary schools.

“Overall, the picture painted by children in this report, particularly around mental health services, is very worrying. With almost 12,000 children on waiting lists for primary care psychology services and 4,270 of those waiting for more than a year, it is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.”




About Piece of My Mind:

  • The OCO working with Red C Research and Marketing designed an online quantitative survey for children aged 12-17 years
  • It was promoted on the OCO’s social media channels and sent to secondary schools
  • The survey asked children about their current mental health problems, where they got their information on mental health and for their views on mental health services
  • 2,166 children completed and returned the survey between 23 November and 18 December 2022.
  • Age, gender and region were captured in the survey responses. The age results were weighted slightly in line with 2016 CSO Census figures.
  • The majority of children who took part in the survey were girls (63%).
  • There was a fairly even representation across the age profile of the respondents and nearly 3 in 5 live in urban areas