Mental health

Seven things you need to know about children’s mental health

One in four 17 to 19-year-olds have a probable mental health disorder, finds NHS survey

One in four 17 to 19-year-olds have a probable mental health disorder, finds NHS survey

The rate of probable mental health disorders among school-age children remains at 1 in 6, but a quarter of older teenagers are now affected, new data reveals.

NHS Digital has published the results of its third third survey on children and young people’s mental health in England, which was first recorded in 2017.

It asked 2,866 youngsters about their mental wellbeing, schooling, social media and their households.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. One in four older teenagers has a probable disorder

The overall rate of probable mental health disorders for seven to 16-year-olds has remained stable since 2021. It remains at about 1 in 6 children (18 per cent), a rise from 1 in 9 in 2017.

But the rates for 17 to 19-year-olds soared to 25.7 per cent – or 1 in 4. This is up from 1 in 6 last year and 1 in 10 in 2017. 

There has been a drop in primary pupils with probable disorders (from 18.1 per cent in 2021 to 15.2 per cent this year) but a rise in secondary (from 17.7 per cent to 20.4 per cent)

But the figures show how in primary school, boys are more likely than girls to have a probable disorder – 19.7 per cent compared to 10.5 per cent. 

2. Girls more likely to be affected at secondary

While boys are most impacted at primary school, the trend then flips in secondary school and into young adolescence (see graph below).

A graph showing mental health problems among different age groups
Source <a href=httpsdigitalnhsukdata and informationpublicationsstatisticalmental health of children and young people in england2022 follow up to the 2017 survey target= blank rel=noopener title=>NHS Digital<a>

Among 11 to 16 year olds, 22 per cent of girls have a probable disorder, compared to 18.8 per cent of boys. 

The rates for girls continue to soar between 17 and 24 years old – 31.2 per cent compared to 13.3 of boys. 

3. More girls have sleep problems

Overall, 34 per cent of seven to 16-year-olds had experienced sleep problems three or more times within the week the survey was taken. This has dropped from 38 per cent in 2021.

But for girls with a probable disorder, this has soared from 72.8 per cent last year to 82.4 per cent. It dropped for boys with a probable disorder from 71.5 per cent to 64.2 per cent. 

Meanwhile, the rates of secondary-age children with a probable disorder feeling lonely “often or always” has begun to rise again.

It was at 21.4 per cent in 2020, before dropping to 17.1 per cent last year. This year, it has risen to 18 per cent. 

This compares to just 1.7 per cent of pupils considered unlikely to have a disorder. 

4. Children with disorders more likely to be absent

There has been a drop in the number of school children with probable disorders missing more than three school weeks. Last year this was 18.2 per cent, but is now 12.6 per cent. 

But those with probable disorders are three times more likely to be absent for 15 days than their counterparts without a disorder. Of these, only 3.9 per cent missed these days.

And absence rates of between one and five days have risen for children with probable disorders, from 15.5 per cent last year to 36.7 per cent. 

Just 17.5 per cent of these children missed no days, compared to 33.4 per cent of their peers. 

5. Safety concerns from children

Secondary-age children with a probable mental disorder were less likely to feel safe at school than peers without – 61.2 per cent compared to 89.2 per cent. 

They also enjoyed learning much less (51.5 per cent compared to 73.1 per cent) and were more worried about the impact of Covid-19 on their exam results (52.2 per cent compared to 41 per cent). 

While 97 per cent of children without a disorder said they had at least one friend to turn to, only 77.8 per cent of those with a probable disorder said the same. 

Children with a probable disorder were also nearly four times more likely to report they had been bullied online compared to their peers – 29.4 per cent compared to 7.9 per cent.

6. 1 in 4 accessed mental health support at school

Among all 11 to 16 year olds, 25.1 per cent said they had accessed mental health and wellbeing support at school.

Eighty-three per cent of all secondary-aged children knew how to get help at school and 70 per cent felt they could get mental health support without others finding out about it. 

But only 57 per cent felt comfortable talking to adults about their mental health, while 61 per cent agreed the support was helpful. 

7. Children with disorders face financial instability

A school-age child with a probable disorder was more likely to live in a household that could not afford to keep the home warm enough – 13.6 per cent compared to 6 per cent of children who are unlikely to have a disorder.

NHS tables showing mental health data

The same is true of pupils in households that have fallen behind with bills, rent or mortgage (17.8 per cent compared to 7.6 per cent) and where the household could not afford enough food or had to use a food bank (11.8 per cent compared to 4.4 per cent).

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