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02 Dec 2022

Surge in teenagers suffering poor mental health

Latest figures from NHS Digital reveal a rise in the number of older teenagers suffering poor mental health, with up to one in four now facing serious distress.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2022 report shows that among 17 to 19-year-olds, the proportion with a probable mental disorder increased from 17.4% in 2021 to 25.7% in 2022. The report also reveals that around one in five children under 16 also reach the threshold for probably having a mental health disorder.

Deeply disturbing crisis

This rise in the number of young people aged 17-19 now experiencing a mental health problem is deeply disturbing and exposes a growing crisis.

Mental health services are expanding, but not fast enough to meet rising needs, leaving many children and young people with limited or no support. Too little is known about who receives support and who might be missing out

Ever more children are presenting with issues including eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, which were already on the increase before the pandemic struck. These have worsened due to the prolonged isolation children experienced during lockdowns.

The report presents findings from the third (wave 3) in a series of follow up reports to the 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People (MHCYP) survey, conducted in 2022. The sample includes 2,866 of the children and young people who took part in the MHCYP 2017 survey. The mental health of children and young people aged seven to 24 years living in England in 2022 is examined, as well as their household circumstances, and their experiences of education, employment and services and of life in their families and communities.

Consequences of inaction

SANE believes the solution is not just more beds. We have a shortage of child psychiatrists and specialist mental health nurses. The attrition of the workforce in recent years has left depleted and often demoralised staff, many doing their best to cope in difficult circumstances, despite the pledges of increased funds and resources.

We have long warned of the consequences of the decimation of child and adolescent mental health services, with closed beds and units leaving children to be shunted like unwanted parcels from one part of the country to another.

The key findings show the acute nature of this crisis:

  • In 2022, 18.0% of children aged seven to 16 years and 22.0% of young people aged 17 to 24 years had a probable mental disorder.
  • In children aged seven to 16 years, rates rose from one in nine (12.1%) in 2017 to one in six (16.7%) in 2020. Rates of probable mental disorder then remained stable between 2020, 2021 and 2022
  • In young people aged 17 to 19 years, rates of a probable mental disorder rose from 1 in 10 (10.1%) in 2017 to 1 in 6 (17.7%) in 2020. Rates were stable between 2020 and 2021, but then increased from one in six (17.4%) in 2021 to one in four (25.7%) in 2022.
  • Among 17 to 22-year-olds with a probable mental disorder, 14.8% reported living in a household that had experienced not being able to buy enough food or using a food bank in the past year, compared with 2.1% of young people unlikely to have a mental disorder.

Providing essential support

Early intervention is critical for children and young people, as half of all mental disorders begin before the age of 14, and three-quarters by the age of 24. Without this extra support we risk raising expectations amongst desperate families and children only for them to be dashed by long waiting times and inadequate interventions.

Given that the majority of mental illness starts in adolescence, we need more commitment from the government to avert a growing crisis in young people’s mental health.

Further reading:

Rate of mental disorders among 17 to 19 year olds increased in 2022 – full report from NHS Digital

SANE Emotional Support – find out more about SANE’s services

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