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The proportion of children experiencing a probable mental disorder1 has increased over the past three years, from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in July this year2.
The rate has risen in boys aged 5 to 16 from 11.4% in 2017 to 16.7% in July 2020 and in girls from 10.3% to 15.2%3 over the same time period, according to The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2020 report, published today 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.
The likelihood of a probable mental disorder4 increases with age, with a noticeable difference in gender for the older age group (17 to 22 year olds); 27.2% of young women and 13.3% of young men in this age group were identified as having a probable mental disorder in 2020.
This report looks at the mental health of children and young people in England in July 2020, and how this has changed since 2017. Experiences of family life, education and services, and worries and anxieties during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are also examined. The findings draw on a sample of 3,570 children and young people aged between 5 to 22 years old, surveyed in both 2017 and July 20204.
Data in the publication is broken down into the following sections:
- Trends and prevalence of mental disorders
- Family dynamics
- Parent and child anxieties about COVID-19, and well-being
- Access to education and health services
- Changes in circumstances and activities
The report revealed that among girls aged 11 to 16, nearly two-thirds (63.8%) with a probable mental disorder had seen or heard an argument among adults in their household, compared to 46.8% of girls unlikely to have a mental disorder.
Parent and child anxieties, and wellbeing
Overall, 36.7% of children aged 5 to 16 years had a parent who thought their child was worried that friends and family would catch COVID-19. More than half (50.2%) of children with a probable mental disorder had their parent report this, compared with a third (33.2%) of children unlikely to have a mental disorder.
Over a fifth (22.3%) of children had a parent who thought their child was worried about catching the virus during the pandemic; those with a probable mental disorder were almost twice as likely to have their parent think this (36.1%) compared to those unlikely to have a mental disorder (18.6%). Additionally, 37.7% of children had a parent who thought their child was worried about missing school or work during the crisis.
Sleep problems seemed to be a factor during the pandemic with more than a quarter (28.5%) of 5 to 22 year olds having problems sleeping. Again, those with a probable mental disorder reported experiencing sleep problems (58.9%) than those unlikely to have a mental disorder (19.0%).
This was more common in girls, with 32.4% reporting sleep problems compared with 24.7% of boys. Issues with sleep affected 17 to 22 year olds (41.0%), more than any other age group.
One in ten (10.1%) children and young people aged 11 to 22 years said that they often or always felt lonely. This was more common in girls (13.8%) than boys (6.5%). Children and young people with a probable mental disorder were about eight times more likely to report feeling lonely often or always (29.4%) than those unlikely to have a mental disorder (3.7%).
Access to education and health services
Children that were unlikely to have a mental disorder were more likely to receive regular support from their school or college during the pandemic (76.4%) compared to those with a probable mental disorder (62.6%).
When it came to receiving help for mental health problems during the pandemic, 7.4% 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, this rose to 21.7% of those with a probable mental disorder. This is compared to 3.8% of all 5 to 16 year olds and 17.5% with a probable mental disorder in this age group.
Changes in circumstances and activities
The report also covers changes in household circumstances during the pandemic. Nearly half (46.7%) of children aged 5 to 16 years old had a parent who said they or their partner worked from home more often than before. Almost three in ten (28.1%) children had a parent who said they or their partner had experienced a fall in household income, and 28.7% had a parent who said they or their partner were furloughed or used the self-employed support scheme during lockdown.
It was also revealed that children with a probable mental disorder were more likely to live in a household that had fallen behind with payments (16.3%) during lockdown, than those unlikely to have a mental health disorder (6.4%).
Overall 37.0% of 11 to 16 year olds and 36.4% of 17 to 22 year olds reported that lockdown had made their life a little worse, while 5.9% of 11 to 16 year olds and 6.7% of 17 to 22 year olds said it had made it much worse.
Read the full report
Notes for editors
- Both the 2017 survey and this 2020 follow-up used the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) to assess different aspects of mental health, including problems with emotions, behaviour, relationships, hyperactivity, and concentration. Responses from parents, children and young people were used to estimate the likelihood that a child might have a mental disorder, this was classified as either ‘unlikely’, ‘possible’ or ‘probable’.
- It is important to note that while the probable mental disorder prevalence estimates presented in this report are based on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), the initial Mental Health survey of Children and Young People 2017 reported on a different and more detailed diagnostic assessment of mental disorder (even though the SDQ was also used) and drew on a larger sample (9,117 children and young people, aged 2 to 19 years old). Therefore, any comparisons between 2017 and 2020 must draw on the results presented in this report, which are based on a comparable measure of the SDQ using children that were aged between 5 to 16 years at the time of each survey.
- This survey is a follow-up to the 2017 survey, with responses submitted online rather than taken face-to-face like the 2017 main survey. It was decided that the SDQ was more suited to a shorter survey conducted online in 2020, which still gave robust estimates on children and young people’s mental health. Therefore, 2017 SDQ estimates were also produced for the 3,570 sample for the MHCYP 2020 report to allow like-for-like comparisons over time.
- The findings in this report are based on survey data collected from a sample of 3,570 children and young people aged between 5 and 22 years old in July 2020. These have been weighted so they are representative for all children in this age group in England at this point in time. These children also took part in the MHCYP 2017 survey which had a bigger sample.
- The data is broken down by gender and age bands of 5 to 10 year olds and 11 to 16 year olds for all categories and 17 to 22 years old for certain categories, as well as by whether a child is unlikely to have a mental health disorder, possibly has a mental health disorder and probably has a mental health disorder.
- The National Centre for Social Research is Britain’s largest independent social research agency. The Office for National Statistics is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and the recognised national statistical institute of the UK.
- Please refer to the Survey Design and Methods Report for more detail on any of the survey methodology: http://digital.nhs.uk/pubs/mhcypsurvey2020w1
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