University of Exeter |September 2018 | Striking increase in mental health conditions in children and young people
The first national-level study in over a decade to investigate trends in mental health problems in children and young people in the UK reports that there has been a notable increase in mental health conditions in children and young people. This research involved academics at University College London, Imperial College London, Exeter University and the Nuffield Trust. Researchers analysed data from 140,830 participants aged between 4 and 24 years, in 36 national surveys in England, Scotland and Wales over time.
They found since 1995 where just 0.8 % of children and young people (ages 4-24) had a mental health condition, by 2014 this figure had increased to 4.8 %. Data for this period demonstrates the increase in treatment in England (60%) , Scotland (75% ) and Wales (41%).
Key findings include:
- Between 1995 and 2014 the proportion of children and young people aged 4-24 in England reporting a long-standing mental health condition increased six fold, meaning that by 2014 almost one in twenty children and young people in England reported having a mental health condition.
- In 2008, when comparable data from the other two countries was available, 3% of 4-24 year olds in England and 3.7% in Scotland said they had a long-standing mental health condition, with 2.9% of 4-24 year olds in Wales saying they had received treatment. By 2014 these figures had grown to 4.8% in England, 6.5% in Scotland and 4.1% in Wales.
- The age group with the biggest increases were young people aged 16-24, with young people in England almost 10 times more likely to report a long-standing mental health condition in 2014 than in 1995 (0.6 vs. 5.9%).
- Young boys aged 4-12 were consistently more likely to report a long-standing mental health condition than young girls. This was true across all countries. There was less of a consistent gender pattern in the 12-15 and 16-24 age groups.
- Over the corresponding time period, the prevalence of total long standing conditions (both physical and mental) decreased slightly in England (20.3 to 19.5%,), increased slightly in Scotland (17.6% to 22.0%) and was broadly unchanged in Wales (13.1% vs. 13.5%).
- Long-term trends in reported symptoms of mental health problems (as opposed to reports of a long-standing condition) showed no consistent evidence of an increase in emotional distress. However, the most recent evidence (from 2011-2014) showed concerning early signs of worsening emotional or psychological distress among young adults. For example, the odds of reporting above-threshold symptoms of emotional distress increased by 15% per year among young adults in Scotland.
Dr Dougal Hargreaves of Imperial College London and a Visiting Research Analyst at the Nuffield Trust said:
“We know that there is already a growing crisis in the availability of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, with many more children and young people needing treatment than there are services to provide it. Our study suggests that this need is likely to continue to grow in future. Without more radical action to improve access to and funding for CAMHS services, as well as a wider strategy to promote positive mental health and wellbeing, we may be letting down some of the most vulnerable in society.
“But it’s not all bad news. The increase in reports of long-standing mental health conditions may also mean that children and young people are more willing to open up about their mental health, suggesting that we have made some progress in reducing the stigma associated with mental ill health.” (Source: University of Exeter)
Pitchforth, J., Fahy, K., Ford, T., Wolpert, M., Viner, R., & Hargreaves, D| (n.d.| Mental health and well-being trends among children and young people in the UK, 1995–2014: Analysis of repeated cross-sectional national health surveys| Psychological Medicine| 1-11. doi:10.1017/S0033291718001757
BackgroundThere is a growing concern about the mental health of children and young people (CYP) in the UK, with increasing demand for counselling services, admissions for self-harm and referrals to mental health services. We investigated whether there have been similar recent trends in selected mental health outcomes among CYP in national health surveys from England, Scotland and Wales.
MethodsData were analysed from 140 830 participants (4–24 years, stratified into 4–12, 13–15, 16–24 years) in 36 national surveys in England, Scotland and Wales, 1995–2014. Regression models were used to examine time trends in seven parent/self-reported variables: general health, any long-standing health condition, long-standing mental health condition; Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Score (WEMWBS), above-threshold Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire Total (SDQT) score, SDQ Emotion (SDQE) score, General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) score.
ResultsAcross all participants aged 4–24, long-standing mental health conditions increased in England, Scotland and Wales. Among young children (4–12 years), the proportion reporting high SDQT and SDQE scores decreased significantly among both boys and girls in England and girls in Scotland. The proportion with high SDQE scores but increased in Wales. The proportion with high GHQ scores decreased among English women.
ConclusionsDespite a striking increase in the reported prevalence of long-standing mental health conditions among UK CYP, there was relatively little change in questionnaire scores reflecting psychological distress and emotional well-being.
The article is available in full from Psychological Medicine
Read the accompanying blog on Nuffield Trust Striking increase in mental health conditions in children and young people