NHS Digital survey uncovers worrying reality of children’s mental health

Published by Scott Challinor on October 5th 2021, 7:03am

A survey carried out by NHS Digital found that one in six children in England were afflicted by a probable mental health disorder in 2021.

The figures were statistically similar to those seen in 2020, therefore suggesting that children’s mental health has not improved since the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Furthermore, the survey’s findings show that mental health in children has deteriorated even further since 2017, when one in every nine were said to suffer from a probable mental health issue.

The survey gathered responses from over 3,600 children and young people in the years 2017, 2020 and March 2021, to form its findings.

In the statistics for 2021, almost 40 per cent of six-to-16-year-olds and half of 17-to-23-year-olds said that they felt their mental health became worse.

The survey suggested that youngsters affected by a mental health problem were more likely to experience feelings of loneliness, sleep deprivation and eating disorders, as well as missing more school hours and being less likely to enjoy stability in their family lives.

In a number of more detailed findings that children's charities found concerning, the research showed that 58 per cent of 17-to-19-year-olds had experienced possible eating problems in 2021, an increase of 44 per cent on 2017. Girls were found to be more adversely affected than boys, with three quarters having experienced such issues.

Sleeping problems affected over 25 per cent of six-to-ten-year-old children, a third of those in the 11-to-16 age range, and half of 17-to-23-year-olds. Meanwhile, one in ten children between the ages of six and 16 were found to have missed more than three weeks of school over the autumn of 2020, with youngsters suffering from probable mental health disorders said to be twice as likely to have missed such an amount of time in the classroom.

The authors of the report said it was difficult to pinpoint the extent to which deteriorating mental health could be attributed to Covid-19.

Emma Thomas, chief executive of children’s charity YoungMinds, told the BBC that the findings came as a “stark warning” and called for new investment into early intervention and support hubs.

Elsewhere, The Children’s Society urged the government to commit to measuring the wellbeing of children in a similar way to how it charts that of adults to help identify those struggling quickly and prevent emerging mental health problems from worsening.

A spokesperson for NHS England has said that money is being invested into new services, including mental health leads in educational institutions to help support youngsters.

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
October 5th 2021, 7:03am

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