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Quarter of girls age 14 are depressed

A quarter of girls are displaying depressive symptoms at 14, according to research.

Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education and the University of Liverpool analysed information on more than 10,000 children born in 2000-01 who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study. They found one in four girls and one in 10 boys are depressed by age 14.

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau which published the research, said: “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill-health among children in the UK. With a quarter of 14-year-old girls showing signs of depression, it’s now beyond doubt that this problem is reaching crisis point.

As part of the Millennium Cohort Study, parents reported on their children’s mental health at ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14. When they reached 14, the children were themselves asked questions about their depressive symptoms.

Parents’ reports of emotional problems were roughly the same for boys and girls throughout childhood, increasing from 7 per cent of children at age 7 to 12 per cent at age 11. However, by the time they reached early adolescence at age 14, emotional problems became more prevalent in girls, with 18 per cent having symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared to 12 per cent of boys. However, boys were more likely than girls to have behaviour problems.

The research also highlighted that generally, 14-year-olds from better-off families were less likely to have high levels of depressive symptoms compared to their peers from poorer homes.

Anna Feuchtwang added: “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs. Conversely, parents may be picking up on symptoms in their sons, which boys don’t report themselves. It’s vital that both children and their parents can make their voices heard to maximise the chances of early identification and access to specialist support.

“The new research also suggests that signs of depression are generally more common among children from poorer families. We know that mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum and as the government prepares to publish its plans to improve children’s wellbeing, it must address the overlap with other aspects of disadvantage.”

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