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A response to the figures on the mental health of children and young people in England released today by NHS Digital

New figures on the prevalence of mental health issues in children and young people in England in 2017 have been released today by NHS Digital. This is our statement in response. 

Everything we know from the evidence tells us that the increase in mental health problems and the detail behind today’s figures can’t be reduced to a single cause. What we do know is that these figures confirm that overwhelmingly and consistently poor mental health has been linked to social pressure and deprivation. It shows that children living in households with the lowest income are about twice as likely as those living in the highest to have a disorder.i

There are four key findings for us. The first is that young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or with another sexual identity are roughly two-and-a-half times as likely to have a mental disorder is a matter of profound concern to us.

Second, the increase in emotional disorders in girls as they grow older is deeply worrying and reflects what we are seeing in our own research. We are consistently finding that anxiety and low mood in girls is rising and the figures today on body dysmorphia may reflect some of the pressures that contribute to this.

The high level of self-harm and attempted suicide of those with a mental health disorder, particularly in girls, is a reminder, if any were needed, of the seriousness of these issues.

Finally, this report offers an opportunity to reflect on the need for early intervention in pre-school children given that one in eighteen had a mental health disorder.

Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of The Anna Freud Centre said:

“There have been repeated calls for more funding for supporting children and young people’s mental health. This is desperately needed. However we also know that purely focusing on funding won’t solve the problem.

“School integration with mental health is welcome but the early recognition of emotional problems and the impact of trauma, stress and deprivation on pre-school children also draws attention to the need to intervene before school starts.

“We need to develop a more comprehensive approach to young people’s mental health from the community to the clinic, with schools as a key part of this picture. We need a kinder society that doesn’t impose unrealistic and destructive expectations on young people to live up to an unrealisable goal. We need to make it clear that people are valued in themselves, not for their appearance and not judged on their sexuality and have a right to be confident in their identity.

“Beyond this we need new ways of working to encourage professionals to work together. We need to empower young people so that they have greater involvement in the support they receive, and we need to develop public health approaches to mental health, to prevent short term problems becoming overwhelming, life-long and debilitating.”

The full report released today can be found here


i These figures refer to equivalised household income, and compare the top and bottom quintiles.