The government should be shocked into immediate action to tackle a growing epidemic of mental health problems in children and young people, the children’s commissioner for England has warned.
Anne Longfield’s warnings come as NHS figures show that the proportion of children experiencing a probable mental disorder has increased over the past three years, from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in July this year.
The likelihood of a probable mental disorder Increases with age, the figures found, with a noticeable difference in gender for the older age group of 17 to 22- year- olds. The data revealed 27.2% of young women and 13.3% of young men in this age group were identified as having a probable mental disorder in 2020.
“This dramatic increase in the number of children struggling with mental health problems, worsened by the Covid crisis, is extremely alarming. It should shock the government into immediate action to tackle a growing epidemic,” said Anne Longfield.
The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2020 report, published by NHS Digital, in collaboration with the Office for National Statistics, the National Centre for Social Research, the University of Cambridge and the University of Exeter, looks at the mental health of children and young people in England in July 2020, and how this has changed since 2017.
Experiences of family life, education and services, and worries and anxieties during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are also examined. The findings draw on a sample of 3,570 children and young people aged between 5 to 22 years old, surveyed in both 2017 and July 2020.
“Overall 37.0% of 11 to 16 year olds and 36.4% of 17 to 22 year olds reported that lockdown had made their life a little worse, while 5.9% of 11 to 16 year olds and 6.7% of 17 to 22 year olds said it had made it much worse,” the report concluded.
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said: “While there have been some welcome improvements in children’s mental health services over recent years, clearly the scale of the problem is getting worse, and what has been promised is just not enough. The NHS will have to upscale radically its plans for children’s mental health just to meet its existing commitments. Every school needs an NHS funded counsellor as a minimum, and we need a children’s mental health service that is properly funded, with no postcode lottery, so that children receive the support and treatment they need as quickly as possible.”
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