THE BLOG

Children's Mental Health: Lack Of Data Or Heads In The Sand?

13/09/2016 17:31
Busybee-CR via Getty Images

Last week it was announced that children experiencing suicidal thoughts contacted Childline 19,481 times  - more than double the number of five years ago.

The NSPCC took this opportunity to make a very important point; we take it for granted that the government has data on everything that's important. But right now, they're not keeping track of key markers of children's mental health, such as the numbers of young people who are in serious need support.

Launching their new It's Time campaign, the NSPCC are calling on the Government to keep better records about the numbers of children in the UK in need of support, highlighting that "if the number of abused young people in the country is not known, many will miss out on help."

Recently, we've seen a rare outbreak of political consensus on the children's mental health. We've finally seen significant financial investment in services, but inadequate government data collection for markers of young people's mental health remains, a remnant of the historic lack of focus on the issue. It is a scandal in itself that nobody can definitively say whether young people's mental health is getting worse in the UK because the data available is so poor.

The last authoritative surveys carried out by the Office for National Statistics exploring the prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people took place in 2004, with the next not due until 2018. Those surveys found that around 10% of young people aged 5-16 had a clinically diagnosable mental health problem. We would be astounded if things have not gotten worse since then, given mounting pressures young people face such as increasing examinations, and the lack of focus on prevention and early intervention.

NSPCC's research is the latest worrying indication of the state of the nation in terms of young people's mental health. Recent reports are converging to paint a very worrying picture; from the 50% rise in children being prescribed antidepressants over the past ten years, to 55% of Head Teachers reporting a large rise in pupils with anxiety and stress, 40% reporting a big rise in cyber-bullying and the number of hospital admissions for children who self-harm reaching a five-year high. Take all of this together and you have a clear message; we are failing a generation of young people.

If we're serious about improving the mental health of young people, we need a sea change in our approach to monitoring the issue. A prevalence survey once every 14 years simply isn't good enough. It's time to recognise children's mental health as a national asset, and do everything we can to understand, strengthen and protect it.

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