Rate of mental disorders among children remained stable in 2021 after previous rise, report shows
Notes for editors
The 2017 survey and the 2020 and 2021 follow-up surveys 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’.
Where two figures are stated to not be statistically significantly different or statistically similar, this means that they should not be compared other than to treat them as the same. This is because these estimates are based on a survey sample. If we were to repeat the survey several times, there is a good chance the two figures being compared would be exactly the same.
Any comparisons between 2017, 2020 and 2021 must draw on the results presented in this report for two important reasons:
- 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). Results presented in this report are based on a comparable measure of the SDQ using children and young people that were aged between six to 16 and 17 to 19 years at the time of each survey.
- As the cohort are slightly older in the 2021 follow-up, different age bandings have been reported than previous reports, with the 11-16 age group remaining the same. However, due to a methodological change to the derivation of 2017 estimates for this age group, any prevalence figures will slightly differ from those for 2017 in the 2020 report. See the Methodological Change Notice for more information.
In 2020, 17% of children aged six to 16 and 18% of young people aged 17 to 19 had a probable mental disorder, which is statistically similar to 2021.
This survey is the second follow-up to the 2017 survey, with the previous follow-up taking place in 2020. Both the 2020 and 2021 surveys used responses submitted online rather than taken face-to-face like the 2017 main survey. The 2021 survey also gave respondents the option to complete the survey over the telephone. It was decided that the SDQ was more suited to the shorter surveys conducted online in 2020 and 2021, which still gave robust estimates on children and young people’s mental health.
The findings in this report are based on survey data collected from a sample of 3,667 children and young people aged between six and 23 years old in February and March 2021. These have been weighted so they are representative for all children in this age group in England as at 31 August, 2021. These children also took part in the MHCYP 2017 survey which had a bigger sample, and there were 2,541 children and young people who took part in all three surveys (2017, 2020 and 2021). The data is broken down by gender and age bands of six to 10 year olds, 11 to 16 year olds and 17 to 19 year olds for most categories, and 17 to 22 years old for certain categories, with some standalone estimates for 17 to 23 year olds included for 2021 where appropriate. The data is also broken down 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.
Ages of participants in the survey refer to their age as at 31 August, 2021.
Respondents were asked five screening questions from the Eating Disorders Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA) module. If they answered yes to a question, they were given a score of one, and if they answered no they were given a score of zero. These scores were added together to give a total score out of five. For 11 to 16 year olds, parent responses were used, and children were classed as ‘screened positive’ if they scored two or more out of five, otherwise they were classed as ‘screened negative’. For young people aged 17 and over, their self-report responses were used with a score of one or more classed as ‘screened positive’. Screened positive does not mean that the child or young person had an eating disorder, but indicates an increased likelihood of problems with eating.
Please refer to the Survey Design and Methods Report for more detail on any of the survey methodology.
For information on mental health and where to find support, visit the NHS website
Last edited: 30 September 2021 11:39 am