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Mental ill health among young people still higher than pre pandemic

Rates of probable mental health disorders among children and young people remained higher in 2021 than they were before the pandemic, according to The Department for Education’s State of the Nation report.

While there were signs of recovery in personal wellbeing in 2021, evidence for a recovery in measures of mental ill-health was less clear-cut.

To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, the report shows children and young people’s wellbeing is gradually improving, despite the challenges that remain. The report shows that there is a link between regular attendance at school and college and positive wellbeing across all groups of children and young people, highlighting the positive impact of face-to-face learning.

Children and Families Minister, Will Quince said: “The resilience of children and young people should never be underestimated. Though they have coped remarkably well over the last few years, this report once again highlights that school is often the very best place for their education and wellbeing.

“These two things must go hand in hand, which is exactly why we are investing so significantly in mental health services, both by improving access to NHS services and by making tailored support available in schools and colleges, with training for staff to confidently deliver this.”

The Department for Education’s third annual State of the Nation report, provides an in-depth picture of the experiences of children and young people aged 5 to 24 throughout the pandemic during the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

The State of the Nation Report include:

  • Education and skills: Children and young people’s happiness with life at school between April and June 2021 remained consistent with previous years. This demonstrates the link between attendance and wellbeing.
  • Personal wellbeing: Evidence suggests that drops in wellbeing occurred most clearly for primary and secondary pupils in February 2021, when schools were closed to the majority of pupils.
  • Physical health and activity: Obesity rates soared between 2019/20 and 2020/21 among both reception and year 6 age children, accelerating a trend which has continued for at least the previous 15 years. However, rates of physical activity have remained relatively consistent.
  • Relationships: Young people indicated high levels of happiness with their family relationship, which was consistent with previous years. Relationships with friends also showed signs of recovery in 2021 following a small reduction in 2019 and 2020
  • Self, society and the future: Children’s happiness with their appearance and future has remained stable in recent years, with signs of improvement in children’s average happiness with their sense of choice in life. Young people’s greatest concerns for the future included the environment, finding a job, homelessness, and crime.
  • Online safety: 5% of 9 to 17-year-olds were unhappy with their experiences online, with unhappiness with online experiences appearing to increase with age.

The data on online safety is the first time such a theme has been noted in the State of the Nation report and highlights the importance of supporting young people to keep safe online.

Online safety is a key component of the mandatory relationships, sex and health education curriculum, teaching young people about privacy online, how to protect themselves and about respectful relationships – online as well as in person.

The Department for Education is also working with the Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza to support parents with helping their children use the internet safely.

The report comes as almost 400 mental health support teams will be accessible to almost three million school and college pupils in England by 2023, a commitment outlined in the 2017 green paper on children and young people’s mental health.

More than 8,000 eligible schools and colleges have applied for a senior mental health lead training grant since applications opened, with an additional £3 million to be provided to extend this training to more schools and colleges.

Funding for the online platform Student Space, led by Student Minds, will also be extended to July 2022 to support university students’ mental health and wellbeing in England and Wales. Since August 2020, it has helped many young people navigate their studies through the challenges created by the pandemic.

Minister for Higher and Further Education, Michelle Donelan said: “As the country begins the transition from pandemic to endemic, it is vital that students get the support they need. That is why I am pleased the Office for Students will be providing funding for the extension of the Student Space platform through to the end of this academic year.”

State of the Nation 2021: children and young people’s wellbeing

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