Barriers to accessing support

Barriers to accessing support

General barriers to accessing mental health support were covered in Chapter Two of this needs assessment. A review exploring barriers to access with mental health services for children and young people identified (Radez et al., 2021):

Structural barriers

  • Lack of funding for services
  • Logistical barriers, such as lack of time
  • Transportation barriers, particularly for people living in rural areas
  • Costs associated with mental health services (such as time missing work)

Healthcare system barriers

  • Lack of available services
  • Lack of information about services (such as not knowing who to talk to)
  • Long waiting times
  • Inflexibility of services
  • Complicated process of seeking help (such as having to make multiple phone calls)

Individual barriers

  • Lack of mental health literacy (such as not knowing a problem is serious enough to need help)
  • Preferences for informal support or managing their mental health by themselves
  • Previous poor experiences with mental health services

Stigma can have a negative impact on children and young people with mental health conditions. It can damage their relationships with friends and family, and lead to exclusion from school, sports and community groups (Thornicroft et al., 2022). Young people who feel that their families do not take their problems seriously are less willing to seek out mental health support (UNICEF, 2021b); whilst encouragement from support networks is an important facilitator to young people accessing professional support for their mental health (Radez et al., 2021).

It is also important to highlight that many children and young people’s referrals to mental health services are rejected: across England, an estimated 130,000 referrals to specialist services were rejected in 2018/19 (Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition & Centre for Mental Health, 2022). Inappropriately high eligibility thresholds for services can mean that children and young people’s mental health problems escalate to the point of crisis (Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition & Centre for Mental Health, 2022).

Additional barriers for ‘at risk’ groups

  • National research suggests that children with complex or less well-understood needs, which do not fit clearly into diagnostic categories, may find it harder to access specialist support from the NHS. This includes support for children with conduct disorders (Crenna-Jennings & Hutchinson, 2019). This means that some individuals ‘ricochet around services’ and do not receive a good level of care (Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition & Centre for Mental Health, 2022).
  • Young adults are the most likely age group to experience poor mental health, but the least likely to identify that they have a condition that may benefit from treatment (Khan, 2016). This age group also faces specific barriers to accessing support.

What do young people say about barriers to accessing support?

  • Centre 33’s Some to Talk To service supports people aged 13 to 25 with a range of issues, including emotional health, sexual health and finances. An evaluation of this service found that young people who chose to access this type of support had a higher level of psychological distress and presented with more needs than young people who accessed traditional forms support (Snell & McHayle, 2022). Young people reported (Snell & McHayle, 2022):
    • That the flexible support offered by Centre 33 made it easier for them to access services and ensure they get the right support for their mental health.
    • The importance of having agency and control over the support offered to them, the flexible approach to waiting times, and feeling that Centre 33 cared for them as individuals.


Full list of references is included at the end of this chapter.