Charities have urged the Government to take action after official figures pointed to a worrying rise in the prevalence of mental health disorders among children and young people.
Data released by NHS Digital today shows that 25.7% of all young people aged 17 to 19 had a probable mental health disorder in 2022, almost double the previous year’s proportion of 17.4%.
Responding to the findings, Sophie Corlett, interim CEO for mental health charity Mind, said that the Government ‘will be failing an entire generation unless it prioritises investment in young people’s mental health services, and specifically funds mental health hubs for young people’. Mental health early support hubs can offer open access, flexible, early support for young people under 25.
Ms Corlett added: ‘The earlier a young person gets support for their mental health, the more effective that support is likely to be. Young people and their families cannot be side-lined any longer by the Government, which needs to prioritise the crisis in youth mental health as a matter of national emergency.’
NHS employment data recently showed that the number of mental health nurses had fallen year-on-year.
In August this year, there were 38,188 mental health nurses working in NHS, a decline since October last year, when the overall NHS nurse workforce peaked at 38,897.
This trend, said Ms Corlett, suggests that ‘an entire cohort have remained in heightened states of distress for years following the educational, social and economic upheaval of Covid-19’.
In 2017, 10.1% of 17- to 19-year-olds had a probable mental illness; this figure remained relatively stable until 2020, when it jumped to what was previously a record high of 17.4%.
In the most recent data, children aged 7 to 10, the prevalence of mental health disorders reached 19.7% of boys, double the rate among girls of the same age, where one in ten had a probable mental health disorder.
The data also showed that mental health disorders were more common in homes under financial strain.
Among 17- to 22-year-olds with a probable mental health disorder, 14.8% reported living in a household that had experienced not being able to buy enough food or using a food bank in the past year, compared with 2.1% of those unlikely to have a mental disorder.
Likewise, one in four 7- to 16-year-olds with a probable mental health disorder experienced a reduction in household income in the last year.
Social media also appeared to play a role in deepening mental health issues among young people.
The report found that social media users aged 11 to 16 with a probable mental disorder were less likely to report feeling safe online and 29.4% of those with a probable mental health disorder reported being bullied online.
Olly Parker, head of external affairs at youth mental health charity YoungMinds, said: ‘These figures demonstrate the unprecedented crisis happening in young people’s mental health. We know young women in particular face a wide range of pressures that can affect their mental health, including concerns about body image often exacerbated by social media.
‘Politicians have promised to end the crisis in young people’s mental health but the reality is that with every month of inaction, things are getting worse. ‘
Claire Murdoch, NHS mental health director, said: ‘While the pandemic has inevitably taken a huge toll on young people’s mental health, the NHS has accelerated its plans to transform and expand services for children and young people’s mental health.
‘This includes rolling out mental health support teams in 4,700 schools covering 2.4 million pupils a year ahead of schedule, 24/7 crisis lines which provide support to hundreds of thousands of children and adults every month, and offering intensive home treatment for children and young people, so if you are worried about your mental health, please come forward for care.’