Official figures indicate that there has been a significant escalation in the number of patients arriving at Accident and Emergency departments in England with mental health difficulties.
Experts believe that a lack of early support for such individuals means that the level of patients within the healthcare system suffering from mental health problems has reached a crisis level.
Data compiled by NHS Digital indicated that between 2011-12 and 2015-16 the number of patients attending A&E units with psychiatric problems rose by nearly 50% to 165,000.
While for the under-18s demographic, numbers virtually doubled to approximately 22,000.
These figures represent a small minority of overall A&E attendances; just over 1% in total.
But the Royal College of Emergency Medicine believes that this number represents the tip of the iceberg, as these figures are only based around cases where the primary diagnosis was a psychiatric condition.
Self-harmers for example may have been categorised differently.
Anecdotal evidence gathered from some NHS trusts suggests that approximately 10% of patients may be attendingAccident and Emergency due to mental health problems.
Dr Peter Aitken, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, indicated that he is extremely concerned by these statistics, and pointed to a lack of funding for mental health services within the NHS.
“Years of underfunding has meant these children have not been able to benefit from early intervention.”
Aitken believes that the government must invest in specialist psychiatric services in order to ensure that the NHS delivers adequate service to those with mental health difficulties.
“Mental health presentations to A&E are unlikely to be minor as they represent an urgent crisis point in a person’s life.”
Dr Marc Bush, chief policy adviser at the charity Young Minds, believes that the situation in Accident and Emergency is already serious, and this will only be exacerbated by the vast number of mental health patients emerging.
“Far too many young people end up in A&E, which can be crowded and stressful, because there’s nowhere more appropriate for them to go. One of the main reasons that crisis services are so overstretched is that young people who are struggling don’t get help soon enough, which means that problems often escalate. Unless we see greater investment in early intervention, the numbers will continue to rise.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health outlined the measures being taken by the government to address the situation.
“As the prime minister has made clear this week – improvements must be made in mental healthcare both within and outside of the NHS, to make sure people get the support they need before they reach crisis point.”
The figures have been revealed just a day after the prime minister announced a package of measures to support people with mental health problems.