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Children’s Mental Health: The Stats You Need to Know

In the first of a week-long series of blogs to mark Children’s Mental Health Week, Dr Fiona Pienaar draws our attention to key findings from the recent survey into the mental health of children and young people. What are the current rates of mental disorder in this age bracket? Which groups are particularly at risk? And what are the trends in preschool mental health? When it comes to meeting our collective responsibility, these statistics are a galvanising place to start.

Keeping abreast of the state of children and young people’s mental health is important on so many different levels. While many of you might not work directly with these age groups, you may work with clients who are parents, or you may be parents, grandparents or carers yourselves. Importantly, as practitioners, not only does staying abreast of current findings give us insight into this generation’s mental health, it also gives us a sense of what might shape the mental health of our future clients. Essentially, this is a topic that should be relevant to all of us.

The recently published findings from the ‘Mental health of children and young people’ survey (2018), reports the findings of data collected from and about children and young people aged 2 to 19, who live in England and who are registered with a GP. The data was collected between January and October 2017, from children (depending on their age), parents and teachers. With the last survey carried out in 2004 (and prior to that 1999), it has been a long wait since we last had insight into the trends and state of the mental health and wellbeing of the country’s young citizens. This 2017 survey was the first time that data was collected on the prevalence of mental disorder in 2 to 4 year olds.

Today, I want to draw your attention to the survey and highlight the headlines. Beyond that, I would recommend that everyone, at the very least, reads the summary of the key findings (see link below).

  • Overall, one in eight (12.8 per cent) 5 to 19 year olds had a mental disorder in 2017 with one in twenty (5.0 per cent) meeting the criteria for two or more individual mental disorders.
  • In the 2 to 4-year-old age group, one in eighteen (5.5 per cent) preschool children had a mental health disorder, compared to 16.9 per cent in the 17 to 19 years’ age group.
  • Mental disorders were grouped into four broad types:

    1.  Emotional disorders (including anxiety and depressive disorders, mania and bipolar affective disorders); identified in around one in twelve (8.1 per cent) 5 to 19 year olds
    2.  Behavioural (or conduct) disorders: identified in around one in twenty (4.6 per cent) 5 to 19 year olds
    3.  Hyperactivity disorders: identified in around one in sixty (1.6 per cent) 5 to 19 year olds
    4.  Less common disorders (including autism spectrum and eating disorders): identified in around one in fifty (2.1 per cent) 5 to 19 year olds

The survey found that there has been an increase in emotional disorders in 5 to 15 year olds since 2004; up from 3.9 per cent to 5.8 per cent. The other three types of mental disorder have remained broadly stable over time.

In the 17 to 19 year old age group, one in six (16.9 per cent) young people were identified as having a mental disorder, with the prevalence almost twice as high in girls (23.9 per cent) compared to boys (10.3 per cent). Essentially, the findings reveal that, amongst this female demographic, almost one in four girls had a mental disorder (particularly emotional disorders and self-harm), thus identifying them as a particularly high risk group.

Amongst many other details about children and young people’s lives, the survey explores social and family contexts, the daily use of social media, risky behaviours, self-harm and attempted suicide and the prevalence of bullying (both victim and perpetrator) amongst those with a mental disorder compared to those without.

We all interact with children and young people and it is my belief that, to a greater or lesser degree, we have a collective responsibility to support their mental health and wellbeing where we can. Understanding the trends in rates of mental disorder, and how their lives might be impacted, gives us insight into the challenges that at least one in eight children and young people may well be experiencing.

Find out more at:

Developing Minds: Mental Health, Children & Young People Conference, with Dan Siegel, was held at the QE11 Centre in central London on Feb 8 2019. A digital recording of the conference can be purchased by clicking here.

#DevelopingMindsConference #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek

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Dr Fiona Pienaar

Fiona is Chief Clinical Officer for Mental Health Innovations (MHI) with responsibility for ensuring high standards of clinical direction and practice. Prior to her present role, Fiona was Director of Clinical Services at Place2Be. Fiona has a background of over 30 years of teaching and counselling in schools, counsellor education in higher education institutes, educational and mental health resource development, academic and clinical supervision, private practice and mental health consultation, research and writing. She has a PhD in Behavioural Science from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, a MEd in Counselling, a Professional Certificate in Coaching (Henley Business School, England) and various other counselling, teaching and special needs qualifications.

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