Mental health disorders on the rise among youngsters says report

A new report has shown that one fifth of all girls aged between 17 and 19 years and a tenth of boys in the same age group in England are suicidal or have tried to harm themselves.

This report comes after a 13 year long study that is one of the largest. Several issues including social media abuse, sexual violence and pressure to appear good and happy have come up in the survey that experts have said are worrying.

Image Credit: Wrangler / Shutterstock

Image Credit: Wrangler / Shutterstock

The report was generated by the NatCen Social Research, the Office for National Statistics and Youth in Mind. A total of 9,711 participants were scanned during this study.

This latest study is government sponsored and has also found that mental health disorders are on the rise. Even among toddlers aged 2 to 4 years there is a 5.5 percent prevalence of mental health disorders. This is the first study to have gathered data on children of such a young age group. The report released by the NHS Digital has revealed that one in eight of 11 to 19 year old children had some form of mental ailment in 2017.

Mental health survey was last carried out in 2004 among children aged 5 to 15 years of age. It was seen that among these children the prevalence rose from 10.1 percent in 2004 to 11.2 percent in 2017. This small rise was surprising considering that there are a large number of young girls who have tried to self harm or commit suicide. It was seen that 21.5 percent of the girls aged between 17 and 19 years have attempted suicide or tried to self-harm.

Girls of this age had a high prevalence (23.9 percent) of mental health disorders, the report found. Most of the cases were anxiety and depression, the study noted. Similarly boys of this age group had a prevalence of 9.7 percent who tried to commit suicide or attempted self-harm.

According to Emma Thomas, the chief executive of the charity Young Minds there are several factors that could be contributing to such “worrying” numbers. “Pressure to do well at school, college or university, difficulty finding work or starting a new job, and moving to a new area all help explain the widespread anguish among them.” Social media, she said was used to compare themselves with others and the number of “likes” or “comments” often determined the popularity.

Jemima Olchawski, the Chief Executive of Agenda that campaigns for girls and women at risk of mental health problems, said that not all blame can be placed at the doors of body image and social media. She blamed sexual influences, pressures and sexual violence among teenage girls and young women.

Sue Rogers, the services manager at Action for Children said that sleep problems, behavioural problems, excessive crying and eating difficulties may be the clues that toddlers and children give out if there is a problem. Prof Tamsin Ford, one of the study’s co-authors who focuses on child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Exeter did not agree that excessive use of gadgets and phones were responsible for these numbers.

University College London psychiatrist Dr Michael Bloomfield in a statement said, “Adolescence is a critical period for a person's development, particularly as our brains go through important changes during our teenage years. Since prevention is better than cure, it is really important for all of us in society to understand together why this is and start reducing the rates of mental disorders in young people.”

Some of the highlights of the report;;

  • Rates of mental health disorders were –
    • One in 18 among 2 to 4 year olds
    • One in 10 among 5 to 10 year olds
    • One in 7 among 11 to 16 year olds
    • One in 6 among 17 to 19 year olds
  • The prevalence was higher among boys aged 2 to 10. Prevalence was similar among 11 to 16 year olds and rose among girls aged 17 to 19 years (23.9 percent in girls versus 10.3 percent among boys)
  • Highest rate of mental health disorders was seen among youngsters in East England (15.6 percent) and lowest rates were seen in London (9 percent)
  • The prevalence was 15 percent among white British children and lowest at 5.2 percent among children of Asian/Asian British origin.
  • A quarter of the participants identified themselves as non-heterosexual. Of these 35 percent had a mental health disorder. Of the three quarters of the participants who were heterosexual, 13.2 percent had a mental health disorder.
  • It was noted that 31.8 percent of children and youngsters with a parent receiving disability benefits suffered from a mental health disorder.

Only a part of the children who are affected are receiving attention finds a Children's Commissioner’s analysis of NHS figures from 2017-18 which shows that 325,000 children received treatment via community services and 5000 received treatment at the hospitals. This makes less than 3 percent of the population states the report. The figures also reveal that one third of the young people who were referred to the services were turned down. The main reason for refusal could be because these individuals could be treated via school charities and social care systems.

According to the Commissioner only around Around £700m is spent on child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and eating disorders support and this is inadequate. On the other hand adult mental health disorders receive fifteen times the funds. It is interesting to note that children form 20 percent of the population. The commission has called for an additional £1.7bn in support of mental health problems for children and adolescents.

According to Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health, the government is set to bring in new measures to look after mental health of the young and improve awareness and services provided. She said, “Everyone who works with children and young people, whether in the public, private or voluntary sector, has to play their part if we are to protect young people's mental wellbeing.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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