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Key findings from the 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People report

Posted on 22 November 2018 by Franziska Marcheselli, Researcher .

The 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People survey is our first robust update on child mental health since the last survey in 2004. This has been published by NHS Digital and was carried out by NatCen Social Research, in collaboration with the Office for National Statistics.

A random sample of children, their parents and teachers from across England were interviewed. While 5 to 15 year olds were also interviewed in 1999 and 2004 – the latest survey provides England’s first data on the prevalence of mental disorder in 2 to 4 year olds. It also spans into adulthood by covering 17 to 19 year olds.

What is a mental disorder?

Most surveys use short screening instruments to identify who might have a mental disorder. This survey series is different. Mental disorders were identified using standardised diagnostic criteria from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). Disorders were grouped into four categories: emotional, behavioural, hyperactivity and other less common disorders. While symptoms may be present in many children, to count as a disorder they had to be sufficiently severe to cause distress to the child or impair their functioning (World Health Organisation, 1993).

Have things changed over time?

The prevalence of mental disorders in 5 to 15 year olds (the age group covered in all surveys in this series) has increased a little over time: from 9.7% in 1999 and 10.1% in 2004, to 11.2% in 2017.

There is much stability over time in most disorder groups. However, as you can see from the chart below, emotional disorders have inched up from 4.3% in 1999 to 5.8% in 2017. Behavioural disorders have always been the most common type in childhood (which was found in 1999 and 2004), however this no longer seems to be the case – in 2017 emotional disorders were the most common disorder type.

 Chart 1

What did we find in 2017?

One in eight (12.8%) 5 to 19 year olds had at least one mental disorder at the time of interview. One in eighteen (5.5%) preschool children (those aged 2 to 4) were also identified with a mental disorder around the time of the interview. 

In 5 to 19 year olds, rates were highest in girls aged 17 to 19. Almost a quarter (23.9%) met the criteria for having at least one mental disorder.

Chart 2

One in twelve (8.1%) 5 to 19 year olds had an emotional disorder like anxiety or depression. This was the most common disorder type. About one in twenty (4.6%) had a behavioural disorder, about one in fifty (2.1%) had a less common disorder, such as an eating disorder or autism, and about one in sixty (1.6%) had a hyperactivity disorder.

In preschool children, boys (6.8%) were more likely than girls (4.2%) to have a mental disorder. For preschool children, less common disorders (such as autism, tic disorders, feeding, sleeping and toileting disorders), and behavioural disorders were most common.

What does this mean?

These survey findings have updated the current prevalence estimates of mental disorder in 2 to 19 year olds living in England. They have shown that rates of emotional disorders have risen. The findings have highlighted older girls as a high risk group for poor mental health, as have other studies such as the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. There is a need to monitor this age group for whom we have less data for.  

The survey also covered lots of other topics, such as social media, self-esteem, physical health, and service use, which are all looked at in more detail. For the full report and questionnaire see here.

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