One in five children and young people had a probable mental disorder in 2023
One in five children and young people in England aged eight to 25 had a probable mental disorder in 2023, a new survey shows.
The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 report, published yesterday by NHS England, found that 20.3% of eight to 16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder in 2023. Among 17 to 19-year-olds, the proportion was 23.3%, while in 20 to 25-year-olds it was 21.7%.
After a rise in rates of probable mental disorders between 2017 and 2020, prevalence continued at similar levels in all age groups between 2022 and 2023.
Participants were also questioned about eating disorders for the first time since the 2017 survey. In 2023, 12.5% of 17 to 19-year-olds had an eating disorder, an increase from 0.8% in 2017. Between 2017 and 2023, rates rose both in young women (from 1.6% to 20.8%) and young men (from 0.0% to 5.1%) in this age group.
This year’s survey also found 5.9% of 20 to 25-year-olds had an eating disorder, while eating disorders were identified in 2.6% of 11 to 16-year-olds, compared with 0.5% in 2017 – with rates in 2023 four times higher in girls (4.3%) than boys (1.0%).
NHS England has rolled out 398 Mental Health Support Teams within schools and colleges to provide early support to young people with mild to moderate mental health issues – covering 35% of pupils and learners in further education.
A further 200 teams are currently in training and due to become operational by Spring 2025, which would ultimately cover five million (over 50%) of the country’s pupils and learners.
NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch said: “Yesterday’s report shows the continued unprecedented pressures faced by young people and reflects the increased demand for NHS children’s mental health services.
“The NHS is providing support for more children and young people than ever before – we have already supported over 700,000 children and young people with their mental health this year and also seen a 47% increase in young people being treated for eating disorders compared to pre-pandemic.
“NHS staff are working harder than ever to meet the increased demand and we have fast-tracked mental health support for millions of pupils in schools and colleges, as well as significantly expanding the children’s mental health workforce. Our partners, especially in the education, voluntary and social care sectors, also have a critical role to play in supporting this effort.
“It is vital that any child or young person struggling, or their family, reaches out for help so they can get the care they need”.
The survey is England’s best data source for trends in children and young people’s mental health and how this has changed since 2017 – covering topics such as bullying, substance use, self-harm and feelings about cost of living, education, climate change and the future.
The Mental Health of Children and Young People 2023 survey, commissioned by NHS England, was carried out earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), University of Cambridge and University of Exeter.
- The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was used 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’. Please note that the mental disorder prevalence estimates in the initial MHCYP 2017 survey reported on a different and more detailed diagnostic assessment of mental disorder. Therefore, any comparisons between 2017, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 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 8 to 19 years at the time of each survey.
- Where two figures are said to ‘remain stable’, they are not statistically significantly different. 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.
- This report examines the mental health of children and young people aged 8 to 25 years living in England in 2023. It covers the prevalence of probable mental disorder, possible eating problems, eating disorders, experiences of education and support, and of life in households and communities. This is the fourth (wave 4) in a series of follow up reports to the 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People (MHCYP) survey. The sample includes 2,370 of the children and young people who took part in the MHCYP 2017 survey. This survey (wave 4) took place during February and April 2023. Comparisons with previous survey waves and breakdowns by age, sex and mental health are presented where available and appropriate.
- Ages of participants in the survey refer to their age as at 31 August 2023.
- For guidance on reporting self-harm and suicide, visit the Samaritans’ website.
- Children aged 11 to 16 years and their parents, and young people aged 17 to 25 years, who were ‘screened positive’ on the Development and Well-being Assessment (DAWBA) eating disorder screening questions were invited to complete the full DAWBA eating disorder module. These responses were reviewed by a small team of clinical raters who assigned diagnoses of eating disorder according to ICD-10 criteria. Further information on this process is available in the Technical Appendix: Eating Disorders, which mirrored the 2017 survey as far as possible. The different mode of data collection in 2017 (face to face) compared with subsequent waves (online or telephone) may result in modal effects in responses, particularly for sensitive questions such as eating problems and disorders. While it is not possible to quantify the effects of this, caution should be taken when comparing results over time. The prevalence figures for 2017 differ slightly from those presented in the MHCYP 2017 report due to slight differences in the weighting of the data. An estimate of 0% does not necessarily mean that no-one in that subgroup of the population has an eating disorder. However, it indicates that rates for that subgroup are likely to be very low and therefore difficult to detect.
- Eating disorders refers to those who had a clinically impairing eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa or another eating disorder according to the International Classification of Disease version 10 (ICD-10). Eating disorders are characterised by disturbances in eating behaviours, appetite or food intake. They usually start in the teenage years. Eating disorders can cause heart and kidney problems and even death.
- For guidance on reporting eating disorders visit the BEAT Eating disorders’ website.
- Number of children and young people aged under 18 supported through NHS funded mental health with at least one contact (12 month rolling) as outlined in August 2023’s Mental Health Services Monthly Statistics.
- 47% more children and young people started urgent and routine treatment for eating disorders in 2022/23 compared with 2019/20 (11,809 in 2022/23 vs 8,034 in 2019/20) as outlined in Mental Health: Children and Young People with an Eating Disorder Waiting Times in particular the time-series data.
- The National Centre for Social Research is Britain’s largest independent social research agency. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and the recognised national statistical institute of the UK, providing data and insights to inform decisions for the public good.
- This is a press statement that refers to official statistics which have been issued separately from it.
- 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.UK website.
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