Pre-teens across Norfolk and Waveney treated for depression
Children in the region as young as eight are battling serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
The shocking picture emerged last night as a pioneering awareness campaign - What's the Deal? - was launched to reach out to young people in Norfolk and Waveney through a new website and educational DVDs for schools.
The �20,000 initiative has been developed against a backdrop of spiralling numbers of young people being referred to mental health specialists each year.
The latest figures for under-18 referrals by health professionals and social workers show a year-on-year increase of 25pc across Norfolk and Waveney; Great Yarmouth and Waveney showing a rise from 579 to 718 and Norfolk going up from 889 to 1117.
Andy Goff, service manager for the child and adolescent mental health service teams (Camhs) at Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Trust, said: 'We have treated eight or nine-year-olds with eating disorders and we have even seen children in that age group with anxiety or depression. However, at that age we would normally avoid medication and treat them through talking therapies.'
He said the Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT-funded campaign, which was already gaining strong national interest, had been partly inspired by a worrying ignorance among young people about what services were available.
'When I was talking to a group of young people none had even heard of Camhs, which is really worrying because it begs the question where would they go if they do not go to their GP,' he said.
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The need to develop ground-breaking new ways of reaching young people had also been highlighted by local schools which had requested low-level information they could use with students.
The website and learning resources would initially be focused on Yarmouth and Waveney but hopefully rolled out across Norfolk.
Children from Yarmouth's Alderman Swindell Infant School, Beccles Junior School and Flegg High School, Martham have been used as actors on the website answering such questions as how they think bereavement would affect them. Children's presenters from ITV have also been involved.
The website - www.whatsthedealwith.co.uk - has been designed by North-East media company MCC Media to be easily accessible by children, while also providing helpful information for teachers.
As well as contact details for Camhs and general information on eating disorders, anxiety, depression and self-harming, the website has video clips of young people talking about their experiences of mental health issues.
'One young woman talks about her eating disorder and how she overcame it. Another case study is of someone talking about self-harming and how they were able to stop,' said Mr Goff.
The website is split into sections for people of different age groups - Just for Kids, Just for Teens and Just for Parents - and each section is carefully worded using appropriate language to reach each of the target groups.
The DVDs have been professionally filmed and provide teachers with a wealth of resource material from lesson plans to films.
Alderman Swindell headteacher Alison Hopley described the new initiative as 'brilliant' and said even very young pupils could show signs of anxiety and depression.
She said a lot of young mothers were on anti-depressants and their depression could have an impact on their children; broken homes, broken relationships and issues arising from the economic climate were other factors.