One in EIGHT children have mental health problems

One in EIGHT children have mental health problems: NHS figures reveal thousands of young people are ‘stuck in a vicious circle of solitude and suffering’

  • 12.8 per cent of children and young people in England have a mental disorder
  • A third of teenagers who don’t identify as heterosexual have mental problems
  • And almost a quarter of women aged 17 to 19 have emotional disorders
  • Even 5.5 per cent of pre-school children are affected by mental problems 
  • Experts have called the NHS figures ‘shocking’ saying they show a crisis

More than one in eight children and young people in England have a mental health problem, NHS figures have revealed.

A survey of more than 9,000 young people and their parents and teachers revealed 12.8 per cent of those aged between two and 19 have a mental disorder.

Women aged between 17 and 19 are the worst affected age group, with almost a quarter of them (22.4 per cent) suffering from an emotional disorder.  

And one in three gay, lesbian or bisexual teenagers suffer from mental health problems, compared to one in seven heterosexuals. 

Shockingly, a quarter of teenagers with a mental disorder have self-harmed or tried to kill themselves, and this rose to almost half of 17 to 19-year-olds.

The figures have coincided with concerns hundreds of children are being given high-strength antidepressants by doctors going against guidelines to prescribe them.

Experts called the figures ‘shocking’ and said inadequate mental health and support services leave many young people stuck in a ‘vicious circle of solitude and suffering’.

Some 12.8 per cent of all people aged between two and 19 have some form of mental disorder and a quarter of teenagers with mental health problems have self-harmed or tried to kill themselves, according to figures released today by NHS Digital (stock image) 

‘These figures are shocking,’ said Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England & Wales.

‘And while progress has been made to normalise conversations about mental health and successive governments have made additional funding for NHS services available, today’s figures are a wake-up call that this clearly hasn’t gone far enough.’

Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017, published today by NHS Digital has laid the figures bare.

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For the first time it has included those aged between 15 and 19, and between the ages of two and four.

The number of five to 15-year-olds with mental health problems rose from 9.7 per cent in 1999 to 11.2 per cent in 2017.

Even pre-school children don’t escape the scourge of mental health problems affecting the nation’s youth – 5.5 per cent of under-fives have a disorder of some kind.

Experts offering their insight into the figures suggest social media could be partly to blame.

Dr Dennis Ougrin, a senior psychiatrist at King’s College London, said: ‘Children with mental disorders are heavier users of social media and are affected by the social media more significantly, than the children without mental disorders.’ 

Teenagers aged between 17 and 19 have the highest rate of emotional disorders, with one in six of them suffering (16.9 per cent), and 6.4 per cent having more than one. 

The YMCA’s Ms Hatton added: ‘To end this crisis that is ruining young lives, it’s crucial that action and investment goes into preventing young people from experiencing poor mental health in the first place.

‘From preventative youth and community services, to education in schools, mental health must be incorporated in every aspect of daily life to stop young people from reaching crisis point.

‘Without preventative services and with the NHS struggling to cope, too many young people are still left alone to deal with their mental health difficulties by themselves, leading to a vicious circle of solitude and suffering.’

The British Medical Association – a leading doctors’ union – has also called for more investment in mental health services.

NHS psychiatrist and deputy chair of the consultants’ committee, Dr Gary Wannan said: ‘These findings are extremely concerning yet not at all surprising given that the BMA has for a long time warned of the need for greater investment in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to be able to meet the rising demand.   

‘Prevention where possible or early intervention is by far the most effective and beneficial means of treating children and young people’s mental health.’

It was also revealed today that almost 600 children, including some aged 10 or under, are being given strong anti-depressants which raise their risk of suicide.


Source: NHS Digital 

Figures unveiled by The Guardian showed 597 under-18s were given ‘last resort’ drugs by doctors going against NHS guidance.

The meds, paroxetine and venlafaxine, should not be given to children under normal prescribing circumstances, the paper reported, because they are believed to increase the risk of suicidal thoughts among young people.

Use of the super-strength depression drugs came as the number of under-18s taking anti-depressants rose from around 69,000 in 2016 to 71,365 last year.

Oxford University psychiatrist Andrea Cipriani told The Guardian: ‘Paroxetine and venlafaxine should not be prescribed as first-line treatment, that is for sure.’

She added: ‘Medications are not a quick fix for depression.’

Mental disorders measured in today’s NHS figures included emotional, behavioural and hyperactivity disorders, as well as other, less common disorders. 

The most common problem among pre-school children was something called oppositional defiance disorder, which is characterised by defiant behaviour. 

Data breaking down rates by region revealed children in the East of England and the South West are worst affected, with nearly 16 per cent of them suffering.

Whereas those in London have the fewest mental disorders, with nine per cent of them suffering.

‘We need to support the children who are most vulnerable while making children and young people’s mental health a consistently high priority, and everyone’s business,’ said the Mental Health Foundation’s chief executive, Mark Rowland.

He added children in low-income homes or who have parents with mental health problems are at a heightened risk of suffering from disorders. 

Alana Ryan, senior policy officer at the NSPCC said: ‘When a generation of children are struggling with their mental health with many having self-harmed or attempted suicide, we are fundamentally failing our young people.

‘Our own research shows even if children are referred for specialist mental health treatment there is a slim chance they will receive it, which is totally unacceptable.’

The British Psychological Society warned the rising number of mental health problems are proof the current treatment system isn’t working. 

Chief executive, Sarb Bajwa, said the statistics confirm ‘what psychologists who work with this group have known for years – that the mental health challenges children and young people face are increasing.’

He added: ‘We need to prioritise prevention and early intervention and psychological approaches that are proven to work with children and their families, peers, schools and communities.’ 


For many people, mental health problems can start in the vital development stages of their lives, and this was the case for 18-year-old Alexandra Cromie, from Belfast.

Alexandra’s first years at school encouraged a negative outlook on herself, she says, when bullies would call her fat and even encourage her to cut and kill herself. 

Not knowing how to deal with her feelings, Miss Cromie soon developed anxiety and depression aged 14. In attempts to change her appearance she became bulimic, trying to slim down to look more like her skinnier classmates. 

With these efforts not working, and not finding anyone to confide in Alexandra’s troubled mental state soon resulted in more extreme actions.

Alexandra Cromie’s mental health problems started when she was bullied at primary school and, by the age of 14, she developed anxiety, depression and bulimia and eventually tried to take her own life

‘There was nobody really there for me so all my hate and anger started to come out in self-harm,’ she revealed.

‘I was cutting myself, burning myself, scratching myself, picking under my skin, all because I didn’t know how to focus that negative energy elsewhere so I just started to focus doing that to myself which lasted around two to three years.’

Miss Cromie’s problem spiralled so much she eventually began experiencing suicidal thoughts and even tried to take her own life. It was at this point she confided in a doctor and was given an emergency referral to an NHS counsellor. 

Starting to finally feel supported, Miss Cromie began to feel more optimistic about her future after a year of seeing an NHS counsellor.

She has now made huge improvements in her mental health and volunteers for the National Citizen Service, sharing her difficult experiences with other young people who have struggled, and encouraging people to seek help. 

‘People need to realise that mental health can get better with the right support,’ Miss Cromie added. ‘But the problem is that people just don’t talk about it enough. 

‘It can be really hard to open up, I’ve broken down previously when trying to share my story because I automatically thought people would think I’m a basket-case.

‘When I did share my story I gained so much support from people thanking me for opening up and saying how inspiring it was.

‘It really made me feel accepted. It just shows how beneficial it can be to have a supportive network around you, while being provided with a safe space to speak in.’

Source: National Citizen Service 

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