The number of children and young people saying they have a mental health condition has grown sixfold in England over two decades and has increased significantly across Britain in recent years, new research reveals.
In 1995, just 0.8 per cent of 4-24 year olds in England reported a long-standing mental health condition, but by 2014, this had increased to 4.8 per cent, meaning almost one in 20 young people in England report having a mental health condition.
The study analysed data involving more than 140,000 children and young adults in England, Scotland and Wales, making it the first national-level study in over a decade to investigate trends in mental health problems among young people.
Although the findings are striking, researchers said they could point to increased mental health awareness and be a positive development.
The study, published in the journal ‘Psychological Medicine’, was a collaboration between academics at University College London, Imperial College London, Exeter University and the Nuffield Trust. Researchers analysed data from participants aged between four and 24 years, in 36 national surveys in England, Scotland and Wales.
It also found 10 years ago in 2008, 3 per cent of 4-24 year olds in England and 3.7 per cent in Scotland said they had a long-standing mental health condition, while 2.9 per cent of those in the same age group in Wales said they had received mental health treatment. By 2014, these figures had grown to 4.8 per cent in England, 6.5 per cent in Scotland and 4.1 percent in Wales – growths of 60 per cent, 75 per cent and 41 per cent respectively.
Dr Max Davie from The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said the report should “act as a act as a catalyst for Government to take swift action” to improve mental health services.
“We know there has been some response to the mental health crisis by the Government with a recent investment in mental health support staff in schools, but without services providing adequate support for all children, regardless of condition or how they enter the system, there is absolutely no way that we will be able to climb out of the dark hole we currently find ourselves in,” he said.
“Left undetected or unsupported, mental health issues can be life changing. They can lead to poorer job prospects, issues with substance abuse and in extreme cases, they can lead to death.”
But Dr Dougal Hargreaves of Imperial College London and a visiting research analyst at the Nuffield Trust said: “It’s not all bad news.”
“The increase in reports of long-standing mental health conditions may also mean that children and young people are more willing to open up about their mental health, suggesting that we have made some progress in reducing the stigma associated with mental ill health,” he added.
Isabella Goldie, director at the Mental Health Foundation, agreed. “This research shows that we have been successful at raising awareness and that young people feel much more able to report mental health problems,” she told HuffPost UK.
“However the scale of these mental health problems cannot be explained by awareness alone. Indicators such as the rise in the numbers of young people with emotional problems or young people showing signs of distress who are presenting at services, suggest there are other things going on.
“Our own research shows that young people are facing considerable pressures around issues like body image and pressure to succeed. Many are telling us they feel that they only have one-chance in life, and a single failure around exams, for example, can feel catastrophic.”
The study comes on the same day as a report from YoungMinds, which warned young people are becoming more unwell while waiting for access to treatment for their mental health.
In a survey of more than 2,000 parents and carers, the charity found that 76% of parents said their children’s mental health had deteriorated while waiting for support from CAMHS – and the longer children were left to wait, the more likely it was that their mental health worsened.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org