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NHS Survey Reveals Mental Health Crisis in Children and Young People

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The NHS has released its second follow-up report to the 2017 mental health and young people survey, in which the mental health of children and young people from earlier this year is compared to just four years ago. 

3,367 children and young people were surveyed in 2017 and again in FebruaryMarch 2021, and the differences in their mental health are frightening to see.

The report has revealed that rates of probable mental disorders have increased significantly since 2017; in 616-year-olds from one in nine (11.6%) to one in six (17.4%). In 1719-year-olds, the rate has risen from one in ten (10.1%) to one in six (17.4%). 

Regarding the respondents’ overall mental state, a staggering 39.2% of 616-year-olds had experienced deterioration in mental health since 2017. Girls (1116 years) were more likely to have experienced deterioration in mental health (43.4%) than boys the same age (34.4%).

Among 1723-year-olds, over half (52.5%) experienced deterioration in their overall mental health state in just four years. In this age group, young women were more likely to have experienced deterioration (61.5%) than young men (43.7%).

The report also reveals concerns about the development of eating problems among children and young people, with rates rising from 6.7% in 2017 to 13% in 2021 among 1116-year-olds and eating problems rising from 44.6% to a staggering 58.2% amongst 1719-year-olds. 

Most concerning for drug and alcohol experts at the UK Addiction Treatment Group – who analysed today’s NHS report- are the differences and rises in rates of drug use among children with probable mental disorders.

The report shows that young people with a possible mental illness were more likely to have smoked cigarettes (23.7%) or used cannabis or other drugs (16.5%) than those unlikely to have a mental disorder (9.3% and 5.2%, respectively), strengthening the connection between ill mental health and substance misuse. 

Nuno Albuquerque, head of Treatment at the UK Addiction Treatment Group, comments: ‘We’re grateful to the NHS for completing the follow-up to their 2017 survey at such a difficult and demanding time because today’s report should stand as hard evidence that mental health in our young generation should be at the top of our Government’s health agenda.’

‘It’s here in black and white that a lot of children and young people are suffering. Our immediate concern is that those with probable mental health disorders are three times as likely to use cannabis and other drugs. Using drugs is a coping mechanism; these kids are trying to cope with their underlying problems because they’re not being helped in any other way. This needs to stop because, as we see first hand every day, early development of substance misuse is extremely dangerous, and ultimately the child ends up in a vicious cycle.’

NHS report also shines a light on the COVID-19 context to the mental health of children and young people. 

It reveals that in 2021, 12.8% of 616-year-olds with a probable mental disorder lived in households that had fallen behind with bills, rent or mortgage during the pandemic, and 9.1% had become more likely to be unable to afford to buy food or had used a food bank. This compares with 6.7% and 2.8% respectively of those unlikely to have a mental disorder.

Concerningly, in 2021,16.7% of 1116-year-olds using social media agreed that the number of likes, comments and shares they received impacted their mood, and a half (50.7%) agreed that they spent more time on social media than they meant to. Girls were more likely to agree with both statements than boys.

Nuno concludes: ‘The COVID-crisis has without a doubt had an impact on the mental health of our younger generation. It’s saddening to see how much importance children especially girls- place on social media gratification, as this can negatively affect their mood, sleep, and even their relationship with food.’

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