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‘Worryingly high’ rates of probable mental health disorders seen in children and young people

‘Worryingly high’ rates of probable mental health disorders seen in children and young people

One in five children and young people in the UK have had a probable mental health disorder in 2023, a survey by NHS England has revealed.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 report, published this week, shows that 20.3 per cent of children aged eight to 16 had a probable mental health disorder, with the figure increasing to over 23 per cent for young people aged 17 to 19. 

The rates of mental health disorders were described as ‘worryingly high’ by academic consultants who were involved in the research.  

NHS figures show that over 700,000 children and young people have received mental health support this year, and the new survey reflects the ‘unprecedented pressures’ faced by young people today and the increasing demand for NHS children’s mental health services. 

The report is the fourth follow-up from the 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People (MHCYP) survey and involved 2,370 children who took part in the original study, all of whom were between 8 and 25 years of age and living in England. 

The survey examined young people’s household circumstances, their experiences in education and service, and their lives in families and communities to build a current picture of the mental health of children and young people living in the UK. The findings were compared with analyses from 2017, 2020 (wave 1), 2021 (wave 2), and 2022 (wave 3) to monitor changes over time.

A sharp rise in probable mental health disorders occurred between 2017 and 2020. Between 2022 and 2023, the rates have remained high but stable, with 20.3 per cent of eight- to 16-year-olds currently having a probable mental health disorder. This rose to 23.3 per cent in 17- to 19-year-olds and 21.7 per cent in 20- to 25-year-olds.

Younger-aged children were found to have similar rates of probable mental disorders across each sex, but as they got older, the rates increased more rapidly for young women than young men. Young women between the ages of 17 and 25 were found to be twice as likely as men of the same age to have a probable mental disorder.

Dr Tamsin Newlove-Delgado, an academic consultant on the survey from the University of Exeter, said: ‘As a society we should be concerned about these findings. Although the rates of mental health problems in children and young people in our study have remained stable in all groups over the past year, those rates are still worryingly high.’

The findings also highlighted how socioeconomic status can affect the mental wellbeing of children and young people. Over a quarter of children aged eight to 16 years of age who had a probable mental disorder were found to have a parent who could not afford for their child to take part in activities outside school or college. This is in comparison to just ten per cent of children who were unlikely to have a mental health disorder.  

The 2023 survey is the first in the series since it started in 2017 to report on rates of eating disorders. The new research estimated that eating disorders affect about one in eight young people aged 17 to 19. They were found to be about four times more common in girls and young women but also occurred in a significant proportion of young men. 

As a result of the high levels of need for mental health support among children and young people, NHS England has rolled out 398 Mental Health Support Teams within schools and colleges to support young people with mild to moderate mental health issues. A further 200 teams are currently in training and will become operational in 2025, meaning over 50 per cent of the country’s pupils and learners will have access to mental health support.

NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch said: ‘Today’s report [21 November] shows the continued unprecedented pressures faced by young people. NHS staff are working harder than ever to meet the increased demand and we have fast-tracked mental health support for millions of pupils in schools and colleges, as well as significantly expanding the children’s mental health workforce.’

She added: ‘It is vital that any child or young person struggling, or their family, reaches out for help so they can get the care they need.’ 


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