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One in six children experiencing probable mental disorder, study involving University of Cambridge finds



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One in six children are now experiencing a probable mental disorder, according to a study co-authored by the University of Cambridge ’s Prof Tamsin Ford.

This has risen from one in nine in the last three years, according to The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2020 report, published by NHS Digital.

The proportion of children with a probably mental health disorder has risen in the last three years, a report suggests (42847199)
The proportion of children with a probably mental health disorder has risen in the last three years, a report suggests (42847199)

The rate has risen in boys aged five to 16 from 11.4 per cent in 2017 to 16.7 per cent in July 2020 and in girls from 10.3 per cent to 15.2 per cent in the same time period,

The likelihood of a probable mental disorder increases with age.

In 17 to 22-year-olds,. 27.2 per cent of young women and 13.3 per cent of young men were identified as having a probable mental disorder in 2020.

Exploring family life, education and services and anxieties during the pandemic, the findings drew on a sample of 3,570 children and young people aged 5-22, surveyed in 2017 and July 2020.

Among girls aged 11 to 16, the report found 63.8 per cent with a probable mental disorder had seen or heard an argument among adults in their household, compared to 46.8 per cent of girls unlikely to have a mental disorder.

Professor Tamsin Ford, from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge, said: “These findings suggest that more children are struggling with poor mental health than in 2017, particularly those reporting having a difficult time during lockdown – this deterioration in mental health was evident for boys and girls and in all ages from five years old to 22.

“The figures of older teenagers and emerging adults, particularly for young women are especially alarming, particularly as they replicate others findings from the UK Longitudinal Survey, which also had pre-pandemic data on the same people.

“All who work with children and families need to be working hard to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, as mental health conditions in childhood predict worse adult health and reduce the ability to learn and achieve at school.”

More of those with a probable mental disorder (58.9 per cent) reported experiencing sleep problems than those unlikely to have a mental disorder (19 per cent) - and the issue was more common among girls.

The study also found:

10.1 per cent of those aged 11 to 22 years often or always felt lonely and this was more common in girls (13.8 per cent) than boys (6.5 per cent). Those with a probable mental disorder were about eight times more likely to report feeling lonely often or always.

7.4 per cent of all 17 to 22 year olds reported they tried to seek help for mental health problems but didn’t receive the help they needed, rising to 21.7 per cent of those with a probable mental disorder.

Children with a probable mental disorder were more likely to live in a household that had fallen behind with payments (16.3 per cent) during lockdown, than others (6.4 per cent).

37 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds and 36.4 per cent of 17 to 22-year-olds reported that lockdown had made their life a little worse, while 5.9 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds and 6.7 per cent of 17 to 22-year-olds said it had made it much worse.

The report was 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.

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