YOUNG people in the Borders are having to wait for an average of five months for help with mental health problems.

The shocking figures were released last week by the Scottish Government.

Across the country almost every health board is struggling to provide specialist mental health services within target waiting times.

But the worst authority of all during the first three months of this year is NHS Borders, where the average Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) waiting time is now 22 weeks.

And just 40 percent of the 110 Borders children and young adults who were referred for help were seen inside the 18 weeks target time.

The figures have been described as a disgrace by Labour's South of Scotland MSP Colin Smyth.

He told us: "The 18 week target is supposed to be a legal guarantee yet over half of children locally are not being given the care they need when they were promised it and that is nothing short of a disgrace.

"The longer a child has to wait for treatment with mental health issues the more difficult and longer their recovery will be."

Mental health conditions in children has been a rising concern in Scotland over the past decade.

And experts believe as many as three children in every classroom now has "a clinically diagnosable mental health problem".

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton is also highly critical of the recent performance by NHS Borders.

She said: "Every quarter we see more children and young people not being seen on time, with the average wait now approaching six months, the worst figure out of all the health boards in Scotland.

“There has been a mental health crisis for young people in the Borders for months now and the complacency of SNP Ministers means that young people are suffering without the access to the support they need.

“Our mental health professionals do a fantastic job with the resources they are given especially in early intervention, however specialist services need more support.

“We simply cannot go on like this, especially when it comes to young people’s mental health which can impact on their future success in jobs, education and everyday life."

Across Scotland only four health boards - NHS Dumfries and Galloway, NHS Forth Valley, NHS Shetland and NHS Western Isles - met the 90 percent target for young people being seen within 18 weeks of referral.

A total of 4,237 children and young people had their first CAMHS appointment during the January to March quarter - with the number seen within the 18-week target time up slightly from the 72.8 percent achieved in the last three months of 2018.

Children's campaigners said there must be a "radical transformation of our mental health services" with greater focus on preventing mental ill-health and early intervention.

A spokesman for the Scottish Children's Services Coalition said: "These latest waiting time figures highlight the fact that we are continuing to fail thousands of children and young people with mental health problems.

"The great efforts the Scottish Government is making, including an additional £250 million for mental health over the next five years announced in its recent Programme for Government, is to be welcomed, but more clearly needs to be done.

"There must be a radical transformation of our mental health services, with a focus on preventing such problems arising in the first place and intervening early, especially when we know that half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14.

"This includes embedding mental health within education from an early age as well as providing training for all staff involved in education.

"With mental health and the issues associated with it representing one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, we must ensure that children and young people are able to get the care and support they need, when they need it. This includes investing in greater community support and support at school, reducing the need for referral to specialist CAMHS."

Dr Elaine Lockhart of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Scotland, believes more staff and services are needed to meet the growing demand.

She said: "As psychiatrists who treat children and teenagers, we want them to be seen quickly and there should be enough trained clinical staff in post, to meet this need.

"We also need an improvement for services offered within primary care, education and social services as well as the third sector so young people and their families are fully supported."

Although NHS Borders has come in for strong criticism over the latest figures, bosses are confident that recent recruitment should improve the picture.

A spokeswoman told us: "Patients who have been referred to our CAMHS service as a priority continue to be seen either the same working day or within five working days, dependent on the urgency of the referral.

“We continue to work closely with social care colleagues to provide a diverse and rounded service for young people in the Borders.

“We recognise that for routine referrals there had been an increase in the average time from referral to treatment for patients accessing this service. This was due to a combination of staffing availability and overall capacity within the service.

"We have recently been successful in recruiting within this area, which is now having a positive impact on our waiting times and these will continue to improve further over the coming months."