Results of major survey on young people’s mental health revealed

Nurse holding young child's hand. NICE guidance on crysvita.
One in eight of five to 19-year-olds had a mental disorder in 2017, according to major new survey.

One in eight of five to 19-year-olds had a mental disorder in 2017, according to the results of a major new survey.

Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017, published by NHS Digital, revealed that 12.8% of children and young people aged between five and 19, surveyed in England in 2017, had a mental disorder.

The survey collected information from 9117 children and young people and combines information – depending on their age – from children and young people or their parents and teachers.

For the first time, the survey has covered children aged two to 19, whereas previous surveys have focused only on the five to 15-year-old age group.

Looking at the five to 15-year-old age group over time, the report reveals a slight increase in the overall prevalence of mental disorder. For this age group, this has risen from 9.7% in 1999 and 10.1% in 2004 to 11.2% in 20172. When including five to 19-year-olds, the 2017 prevalence is 12.8%, but this cannot be compared to earlier years.

Mental disorders were grouped into four broad categories:

  • emotional
  • behavioural
  • hyperactivity
  • other less common disorders.

Emotional disorders have become more common in five to 15-year-olds – going from 4.3% in 1999, to 3.9% in 2004 to 5.8% in 2017.

All other types of disorder have remained similar in prevalence for this age group since 1999.

Responding to the report, Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “It is deeply concerning to see an increasing number of young people struggling with their mental health but we must also welcome the fact there is now a greater awareness of these issues among our children.

“It is absolutely critical that we have the resources to give the right support to every child or young person that needs it at the earliest possible stage. Our members are doing some excellent work in this area but we know there is much more that needs to be done.”

Different disorders were found to be more or less common at different stages of childhood, with rates of mental disorder higher in older age groups.

Preschool children (two to four-year-olds)

One in eighteen (5.5%) preschool children were identified as having at least one mental disorder at the time they were surveyed.

Behavioural disorders were evident in one in 40 (2.5%) of preschool children, consisting mainly of oppositional defiant disorder (1.9%).

The prevalence of mental disorders in two to four-year-olds in England has been surveyed for the first time so these figures are experimental statistics.

Young people (17 to 19-year-olds)

One in six (16.9%) 17 to 19-year-olds were found to have a mental disorder with one in 16 (6.4%) experiencing more than one mental disorder at the time of the interview. This age group had the highest rate of emotional disorder (14.9%).

Young women (17 to 19-year-olds)

Females aged 17 to 19 were more than twice as likely as males of the same age to have a mental disorder.

Young women in this age group were also identified as having higher rates of emotional disorder and self-harm than other demographic groups – 22.4% had an emotional disorder.

5.6% of young women were identified as having body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an anxiety disorder characterised by the obsessive idea that some aspect of their body or appearance is severely flawed and warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix.

Self-harm and suicide

A quarter (25.5%) of 11 to 16-year-olds with a mental disorder had self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point, compared to 3.0% of those who were not diagnosed as having a mental disorder. In 17 to 19-year-olds with a mental disorder, nearly half (46.8%) had self harmed or made a suicide attempt.

The report also looked at other aspects of the lives of the children and young people surveyed, including – for the first time – social media, bullying and cyberbullying.

Sean Duggan added: “Evidence shows prevention and early intervention are crucial so we hope the ambitions of the recent Children and Young People’s Mental Health green paper and the upcoming NHS long-term plan – which we are promised will have a focus on children and young people’s mental health – will make a real difference to young lives.”

The survey was carried out for NHS Digital by National Centre Social Research, the Office for National Statistics and YouthinMind5.