For the first time in almost fifteen years the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has collaborated with the NHS to produce official figures on the mental health of children and young people. The startling results found one in eight of 5 to 19 year olds experienced difficulties with their mental health.
The research estimates the prevalence of mental disorders in children aged 2 to 4 years old and found that 1 in 18 preschool children experienced difficulties with their mental health and in this age group boys were more likely than girls to suffer. The importance of identifying mental disorders in children at the earliest opportunity is crucial because the early years of a child's life is a foundation for lifelong emotional and physical health as well as education achievement.
Unsurprisingly, rates of mental disorders were higher in older children with one in ten of primary school age children suffering a mental disorder, increasing to one in seven of secondary school age. One in six young people aged 17 to 19 year olds had a disorder, with rates much higher in girls than boys. The research found that young people with a mental disorder were spending more time on social media, and more likely to compare themselves with social media users without a mental disorder.
The role of schools supporting children with mental disorders was highlighted in the research, but are schools qualified to do so. Children of parents who had poor mental health were also identified as more likely suffer themselves compared to those children whose parents showed little to no evidence of a mental disorder.
NHS England offers support for new mothers and has recently extended support fathers and partners. This support includes mental health checks and treatment to support parents during the challenging early stages of starting a family.
The ONS also examined the affect loneliness can have on the physical and mental health of young people as well as their personal well-being. The research found particular characteristics and circumstances linked to lonely children. Younger children reported more frequent loneliness; those receiving free school meals reported more frequent loneliness than others; and those living in cities reporting more frequent loneliness than those living in towns or rural areas.
The research used the term ‘mental disorder’. This reflects an internationally recognised clinical diagnosis tool to identify symptoms in children which causes them significant distress or impair their functioning.