The mental health of children and young people has not improved since last year’s lockdown, a survey by NHS Digital suggests.
It found one in six children in England had a probable mental disorder in 2021 – similar to 2020, and up from one in nine in 2017. And nearly 40% of six to 16-year-olds, and half of 17 to 23-year-olds, said they felt their mental health had got worse over that time. Girls were more affected than boys.
Charities say it’s very worrying that so many young people are struggling with their mental health and may need long-term support. The figures are based on questions asked to more than 3,600 children and young people in 2017, 2020 and March 2021 about their family life, schooling and feelings.
The NHS Digital report authors said it was difficult to work out how much of the change in children’s mental health was because of the pandemic – but they found those with a probable mental health disorder were more likely to be worse off.
These children and young people were more likely to feel lonely, experience sleeping and eating problems and miss school. They were also less likely to have a stable family life.
Charity Action for Children said the figures were “shocking” and showed the true scale of the mental health crisis facing the NHS in England “after 18 months of fear, anxiety and disruption”.
“We cannot sit back and watch this unfold. Children need support as soon as a problem is identified, and not be left to suffer in silence on a waiting list for months on end, risking even more damage to their mental health,” said director of policy Imran Hussain.
Yorkshire Children’s Trust have a package of counselling and play therapy services and have seen themselves an increase in demand for mental health support in children and teenagers since the start of the pandemic. YCT have received reports of low mood and self esteem, anxiety, depression and even self harming with this demographic finding isolation and losing loved ones to the virus particularly hard to deal with.
Despite the cost of providing each counselling session costing the charity in excess of £60, the charity is able to subsidise this to provide low cost, affordable counselling and play therapy sessions from just £30. Sessions are usually provided in blocks of six, with one session a week seen to provide a vast improvement in overall mood and lowered anxiety levels.