Around six children in every classroom need mental health support, but many struggle to get the help that they need, experts have warned.

A “perfect storm” of the Covid-19 pandemic, deepening inequalities in society and “decades of inaction” have led to a situation where demand outstrips capacity for services, the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition said.

It warned that children and young people face “significant challenges” trying to access the support they need, including high thresholds for referrals for help; rejected referrals and long waiting times.

The Coalition, made up of of 200 organisations including health charities and organisations, said that whichever political party wins the next general election should “grasp the nettle” and make strong commitments to improve the mental health of young people.

This includes: more investment; better early support when problems emerge; more mental health across all educational settings and reform of the Mental Health Act to protect the rights of children.

The Coalition’s new report, which sets out steps political parties should take to safeguard children’s mental health, states that about one in five children and young people aged eight to 25 years had a mental health problem in 2023.

“That’s equivalent to six children in a class of 30,” the authors wrote.

They added: “Decades of inaction has led to a children’s mental health system where demand is now outstripping capacity.

“High thresholds for support, rejected referrals and long waiting times are the main tenants of the system, meaning that children and young people face significant challenges in accessing the support they need.”

The authors raise concerns that mental health has “slipped off the political agenda”.

Amy Whitelock Gibbs, chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, said: “This is a watershed moment for children and young people’s mental health.

“A perfect storm of the Covid-19 pandemic, deepening inequalities in society and decades of inaction have led to an untenable situation – leaving babies, children, young people, and their families without the support they so desperately need.

“No longer can we accept false promises for change that result in little or no action.

“The upcoming general election is a critical opportunity to turn the tide on mental health.

“Our manifesto calls on all political parties to adopt our four pledges and invest in proven solutions, to ensure that all babies, children, and young people get the support they need and deserve.”

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “The NHS has rolled out 400 mental health teams in schools and colleges, way ahead of target, so that more than a third of pupils can access support in the classroom with a further 100 teams currently in training.

“So, if your child is struggling with their mental health, please come forward for support – the NHS is here to help.”