Mental Health Crisis Among Children Intensified in 2023

Sam Preston 23 February 2024 3 min read
Mental Health Crisis Among Children Intensified in 2023 feature image

In 2023, a troubling revelation emerged from a survey conducted by NHS England: Published under the title "The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023,"

The report brought to light the staggering prevalence of mental health issues among the youth demographic, claiming that one in five children and young people aged 8 to 25 in England have experienced a probable mental disorder . Among the surveyed age groups, the survey revealed that 20.3% of 8 to 16-year-olds, 23.3% of 17 to 19-year-olds, and 21.7% of 20 to 25-year-olds were affected by probable mental disorders.

This data indicates a continuation of the concerning trend observed between 2017 and 2020, with rates of mental disorders persisting at similar levels across all age groups in the years 2022 and 2023.

Particularly alarming is the rise in eating disorders among young people. The survey, which included questions on eating disorders for the first time since 2017, revealed a significant increase in prevalence. For instance, 12.5% of 17 to 19-year-olds suffered from an eating disorder in 2023, a stark rise from 0.8% in 2017. Rates among young women have soared from 1.6% to 20.8%, while among young men, they increased from 0.0% to 5.1% over the same period.

In an attempt to address these concerning trends, NHS England has taken proactive measures to support the mental health needs of young people by implementing 398 Mental Health Support Teams within schools and colleges. These teams aim to provide early intervention for individuals with mild to moderate mental health issues, covering 35% of pupils and learners in further education. Additionally, 200 of these teams are currently undergoing training and are expected to be operational by Spring 2025, with the aim of reaching over 50% of the country's pupils and learners.

However, amidst the ongoing challenges, the mental health crisis among children and young people is compounded by broader societal issues. NHS Digital's monitoring since 2017 has consistently highlighted the urgent need for effective mental health services and support. The term "probable mental disorder" has been replaced with "mental health difficulty" by NHS Digital, emphasizing the complexity of these issues.

Data from 2023 Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2023 - wave 4 follow up to the 2017 survey also reveals the impact of poverty on mental health, with children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to experience mental health difficulties. Moreover, there are significant differences between genders, with mental health difficulty rates being twice as high among young women aged 17-25 compared to young men.

The survey importantly highlights the interconnectedness of mental health with various aspects of life, including education and online safety. Children with mental health difficulties reported feeling less safe and less enjoyment in learning at school, with higher rates of absenteeism. They were also more susceptible to online bullying.

Moreover, the survey reported the growing concern about climate change is contributing to eco-anxiety among young people, adding another layer to the mental health challenges they face. The survey revealed that slightly more than half (54.8%) of individuals aged 17 to 25 expressed concerns about the ramifications of climate change. These respondents are apprehensive about environmental deterioration and the obstacles presented by climate-related issues. Nevertheless, a gender gap exists with young women (19.6%) exhibiting lower levels of concern compared to young men (30.2%) regarding climate change.

In response, there is an urgent call for action from organisations such as Young Minds and The Children’s Society as well as political parties. The Liberal Democrats education spokesperson said, “It is shameful that thousands of children in dire need of help are struggling to access mental health services. This cannot go on,”

The Government's abandonment of the ten-year mental health plan and plans to reform the Mental Health Act have left critical gaps in support. The government has decided to abandon its recently launched 10 Year Mental Health Plan, much to the disappointment of activists and professionals in the mental health field. Instead, the government intends to merge the mental health plan with a broader strategy focused on major health conditions and diseases, which has raised concerns among campaigners about the potential loss of progress made during the consultation phase of the original plan. Mental health charities and organisations have strongly criticised this decision, viewing it as a betrayal of the government's commitment to develop an innovative mental health plan. They argue that lumping mental health issues with chronic physical conditions may hinder long-term solutions and adequate care provision. There are specific worries regarding the impact on children and young people, who are facing a significant rise in mental health problems. Campaigners emphasize the importance of prevention and early intervention in protecting their mental well-being, urging the new strategy to prioritize this demographic.

Comprehensive measures are needed to address wider risk factors, such as poverty and inequality, alongside implementing mental health support in educational settings and strengthening specialist services. UNICEF UK and other stakeholders emphasise the necessity of addressing the needs of children and young people within the new strategy, emphasising prevention, early intervention, and wider determinants of mental health. Individuals with firsthand experience of mental health issues, along with organisations like Mind, stress the importance of a comprehensive and ambitious mental health plan, reflecting the insights and needs voiced during the consultation process. Health professionals, including Stephen Parker from Turning Point, highlight the urgent need for bold plans to address the challenges faced by mental health services, particularly in light of the recent pandemic and ongoing socioeconomic crises.

In conclusion, concerted action at both policy and community levels is essential to address the mental health crisis among children and young people. Cuts in public services, such as Youth service provision over the last 20 years, coupled with the increasing number of children and young people who have significant mental health issues have resulted in long waiting lists that have overwhelmed services such as CAMHS. The system is at a crisis point and needs significant investment to deal with the increasing and necessary demand for its service. If we are going to save a generation of young people who are struggling to function positively in society, we need to fund services adequately, for failure to do so risks exacerbating an already dire situation, with far-reaching consequences for individuals and society as a whole.

Sam Preston

SSS Learning Safeguarding Director

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