A leading charity says ineffective mental health support is to blame for soaring numbers of young people being sectioned by police.

YoungMinds has warned that to reduce these numbers, the Government must prioritise early intervention.

Figures published by the Home Office and analysed by the Newsquest Data Investigations Unit revealed that the number of young people detained by police under the Mental Health Act has risen by 19 per cent between 2016-17 and 2018-19 in England and Wales.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council recognised that officers are spending more time than they should dealing with people in crisis, due to understaffing in the NHS.

Tom Madders, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, said: “Unfortunately, young people across the country too often can’t get effective mental health support until they reach crisis point. If the Government wants to reduce the number of young people who become so unwell that they need hospital treatment, it needs to make early intervention a priority - through the NHS, in schools and in local communities.”

The latest figures released by NHS England show that 398,346 children and young people were waiting for their second contact for mental health services between April 2018 and March 2019, with the average waiting time being 59 days.

Many parents struggle to access mental health support for their children when they need it.

This is what happened to a 34-year-old mum from Middlesbrough, who waited for eight months for a follow-up appointment with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for her 13-year-old daughter.

The mum, who remains anonymous to protect the identity of the girl, said they went for an initial assessment in April.

Despite a promise of a call back the following day to schedule a further meeting, it wasn’t until months later that she got a phone call from CAMHS planning a meeting for Christmas Eve.

Her daughter was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, as well as having suicidal thoughts.

“She had a tough time in her life and had been talking about not wanting to be here.

“She felt she couldn’t cope even going to school some days. Then she started talking about how things would be if she wasn’t here and saying nobody would miss her, except the family.

“She was bullied at school, which contributed too, and had very low self-esteem,” said the mum.

Luckily, she was able to support her daughter at home and was able to cancel the Christmas Eve appointment with CAMHS.

Mental health charities believe that prompter support would reduce the number of times police are called to deal with someone in crisis.

Under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act police can take a person to a place of safety if it appears they have a mental disorder and are in need of immediate care and control.

Forces can only detain someone for up to 24 hours and the person is kept in the place of safety so they can be examined by a doctor and interviewed by an approved mental health professional, before necessary arrangements can be made for treatment or care.

Being sectioned by police does not mean being taken to custody.

A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: “Police officers are spending more time than they should be waiting for people in crisis to be admitted for treatment because of understaffing in NHS services. There is a well-established dialogue between partners to build lasting support networks and we will work closely with the NHS and others to help those facing mental health emergencies get the assistance they need in line with their care needs.

“It is right that the police are there to protect those in immediate danger, but they shouldn’t become the first point of call for those who need longer term mental health support and access to prevention measures.”

The Government said it is committed to reducing the number of people that are sectioned.

A spokesman said: “Police officers do a tough job protecting those facing mental health problems in often difficult and distressing circumstances and are provided with training to support them.

“We are committed to reducing the number of people detained under the Mental Health Act and we are investing in the NHS to transform mental health care and continue to ensure that those in a mental health crisis are treated with dignity and respect.”

But Mr Madders said the Government must also prioritise reforming the outdated Mental Health Act to give young people a greater say over decisions about treatment.

He said: “We are still waiting for the UK Government to publish its full response to the recommendations made by the independent review of the Mental Health Act, which was carried out in 2018.

“The Mental Health Act review included some positive proposals that would mean that children and young people are only treated in hospital when absolutely necessary, and which would strengthen and clarify their rights to be involved in – and challenge – decisions about their care.

“The Government has committed to reforming the Act, but we hope they will take urgent action to consider and implement these proposals.

“It is also vital that we see greater investment in early intervention, so that more young people receive support in their communities before they reach crisis point.”

According to the Home Office figures, of all the people sectioned by police between 2016-17 and 2018-19, more than four per cent were under the age of 18.

Mr Madders said: “Being admitted to hospital can be a lifeline for some young people with mental health problems, but it can also be a confusing and frightening experience – and that’s why detention should only ever be used as a last resort.”