TOUGH economic times are being blamed for a huge increase in children and teenagers seeking help for mental health problems in Bolton.
Families struggling to cope with job losses, the recession, Government cuts and fewer opportunities for young people are part of the problem, according to a leading psychiatrist.
When Dr Ian Dufton started working at Royal Bolton Hospital 10 years ago, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) dealt with 360 referrals in one year.
Now, it receives between 95 and 115 every month and the figure is set to peak with 1,600 referrals in just 12 months.
Dr Dufton, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and clinical lead, said: “The number of referrals has been steadily increasing over the past five years.
“It has ridiculously increased if you think of the 10-year period I’ve worked here.”
Dr Mark Bowers, consultant clinical psychologist, added: “We know it’s difficult times. We know families are finding it difficult, whatever the political parties say or don’t say.
“When adults are under financial stress, they are more likely to develop mental health difficulties themselves.”
This has an impact on their children. Dr Bowers said: “They run together. They tend to associate with each other.”
Dr Dufton added: “Life is different, their opportunities are different.
“We know the opportunities for young people with employment have changed.
“University attendance will change. The way that’s funded is changing and that will influence young people going or not going.
“These days, there is less optimism about the future.”
The most common referrals to CAMHS are children and young people with emotional difficulties including anxiety, depression and trauma.
They tend to be aged 14 to 16, including youngsters who are looked after by the local authority.
Dr Dufton said this age range is the “prime time for developing emotional disorders” as they can also be dealing with “family breakdown, school and academic challenges, becoming a woman or a man, having all those young person challenges”.
The next most prevalent are youngsters with developmental disorders, including autism, Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as others displaying challenging, aggressive and violent behaviour.
The most common age for these referrals are six to eight years old.
The service sees a smaller number of referrals including youngsters with eating disorders and difficulties such as experiencing psychosis, having hallucinations and hearing voices.
Other reasons they are seeing more youngsters include changes to other services which previously provided support, such as educational psychologists in schools, people being more aware of CAMHS and reduced stigma over accessing the service.
CAMHS is available for all ages, up to 18, but Dr Dufton said: “In the very early ages, it tends to be about focusing on the parents.
“Probably the youngest we tend to physically see are aged four to five.”
Those youngsters usually have developmental disorders, learning difficulties or are displaying challenging behaviour.
Dr Bowers added television programmes such as Channel 4’s Supernanny, which saw Jo Frost visit parents struggling with their children’s behaviour, also mean people are more aware help is available.
Speaking of the explosion of social networking, Dr Dufton said: “We are not really sure what the impact of technology and social networking is.
“What we tend to see is probably the wrong end if it.
“We tend to see people who might have got into difficulty, who might have experienced bullying, things being exposed about them, relationships through social networks going wrong.”
Dr Bowers, who has worked at the hospital for three years, said they also see the internet playing a role in cases of self-harm.
He said: “A lot more young people are self-harming when in crisis or stressed or in emotional difficulty. Predominantly girls.”
The psychologist said the internet and social networking sites can be places where youngsters stumble across, or seek out, dangerous so-called “coping methods”.
Dr Bowers added: “The first place they will go to is the internet, even before they might talk to a teacher or a parent.
“They will find some positive information but they will find some people talking about how they cope.
“Culturally, we are less inclined to accept distress, we want to change it. In hard times, people need something to manage their distress.”
Other ways people are seeking to do this is through substance and alcohol misuse.
Dr Dufton said: “Things have changed. If you go back 10 years, we are seeing more young people using cannabis now. Cannabis is common, alcohol is common.”
In the youngsters they see, use of cannabis impacts on their mood, motivation, mental health and can cause paranoia and hallucinations.