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Sobering statistics about the mental health of children & young people

22 November 2018 | by Guest

The following article has been published on behalf of Katie Hunt, Chair of the DCP Faculty for Children, Young People and their Families.

NHS Digital has just published its findings, drawn from research conducted in 2017, on the mental health of children and young people in England.

This is the first national survey since 2004 and is very welcome, as although it might tell us what we think we already know, it is vital that we have up-to-date and reliable data about children and young people’s mental health.

There are some important findings, which include:

  • increased rates of mental health difficulties for children and young people
  • increased rates of emotional disorders
  • uncomfortably high rates across age groups (including one in 10 primary school children with a mental health disorder, one in seven 11-16 year olds, and one in six 17 to 19 year olds)
  • young women aged 17-19 identified as being at particularly high risk
  • young people who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or with an other sexual identity were more likely to have a mental disorder (34.9%) than those who identified as heterosexual (13.2%)

Although this is a prevalence survey and as such all about the numbers, we particularly welcome the consideration of contextual factors that help broaden the understanding of children and young people’s mental health difficulties, moving away from individuals ‘with’ a disorder to an understanding that there is always a wider context.

We also welcome the inclusion of data (albeit experimental data) on very young pre-school children, because it is important that we have an understanding of young people at all stages of development.

The data also points to the impact of adverse childhood experiences as well as contextual factors, including lower socio-economic status, parental mental health difficulties, lower levels of social support and overall family functioning.

The survey also highlights that children with a mental health disorder are more likely to be engaging in risky behaviours, and more likely to have poorer general health, a limiting long term illness, physical or developmental problem, or a special educational need.

Although this is data from the NHS, it includes important information to help us make connections across the lives of children and young people with mental health difficulties.

It is concerning that 35 per cent of children with a mental health disorder were also recognised as having a special educational need, and that children and young people with a mental health disorder were more likely to be truant from school, more likely to be formally excluded from school, and more likely to be involved in bullying.

These are sobering statistics and tell us much about the impact on the future life chances of children with mental health disorders.

This tie up across physical health, mental health and special educational needs is important and welcomed - the more that we understand the interrelationships between different aspects of functioning, the better our ability to implement early interventions to prevent difficulties with mental health.

The level of distress that lies behind this data is clear, not least because one in four 11-16 year olds with a mental health disorder were found to have self-harmed or attempted suicide.

Only two thirds of children with a mental health disorder had any contact with professional services in connection with their mental health.

Of these contacts, only one in four were with mental health specialists, and one in four young people with a mental health disorder having had no professional or informal support of any kind.

We know that when children and young people with concerns about their mental health had contact with professional services they tended to find them helpful, but the fact remains that too many children had no access to any kind of support.

When children and young people did have access, one in five had to wait more than six months for this access. Children with neurodevelopment difficulties waited the longest, and we need to remember the distress hidden behind waiting time data.

The government has promised new money for CAMHS, and parity of esteem between physical and mental health.

Whether or not this money is reaching the places it should be, this new data clearly shows us the level of need and the size of the challenge around children and young people’s mental health.

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