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Latest data shows steady rise in young people experiencing serious mental health problems

Published

30 Oct 2020

Aleisha Clarke introduces our new evidence briefing on the prevalence of mental disorders among young people in England, part of our major programme of work on adolescent mental health: an area of rising concern and a particular priority in this Covid-19 period.

Results from the newly published Mental Health of Children and Young People survey for England indicate that one in six young people aged 11–16 years were identified as having a probable mental disorder during the 2020 national lockdown period (July 2020). The figure increases to one in five among young adults aged 17–22 years.

Today we are publishing our evidence briefing on adolescent mental health, the first in a series that will examine important topics in this area. This first brief presents data on the prevalence of mental disorders among adolescents in England. We have collated the most recent data from nationally representative studies that examine rates of mental health disorders, suicide and self-harm among young people in England. The data presented in this brief provides an insight into the scale of mental health problems in England, the increasing trend over time, and the associations with self-harm and suicide.

While the 2020 data from the Mental Health of Children and Young People survey only provides an indication of the number of young people identified as having a probable mental disorder, it does suggest that in comparison to previous waves, young people’s mental health has deteriorated. 11–16-year-olds have seen a 5.0-percentage-point increase in probable mental disorders between 2017 and 2020.

Additional results suggest that young people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities have been disproportionally affected by Covid-19, with the prevalence of probable mental disorders nearly doubling among BAME adolescents since 2017. It is essential that in responding to Covid-19 and planning for its aftermath, young people’s mental health is a priority.

To date, EIF’s work in relation to mental health has primarily focused on supporting children’s social and emotional development – for example, in guidance to primary schools or resources on pupils’ wellbeing after the national lockdown. Social and emotional skills are protective factors for mental health and essential to the work done to support children’s mental health.

However, there is increasing concern about young people’s mental health across education and health sectors. At EIF we are turning our attention to this area to consider what works to enhance positive mental health and prevent mental disorders during adolescence. We are currently conducting a systematic review on the effectiveness of school-based interventions aimed at addressing adolescent mental health. This review seeks to understand what works, for whom, and under what circumstances. The results from this review, which will be available in spring 2021, will support evidence-informed decisions about the implementation of universal and targeted mental health support in secondary schools.

The data presented in our new evidence brief provides a clear, up-to-date picture of young people’s mental health in England, including those most in need. Accurate information about the prevalence of mental disorders in young people is essential to understanding current need and appropriately tailoring programmes and policies designed to improve adolescent mental health.

About the author

Dr Aleisha Clarke

Aleisha is head of what works, child mental health & wellbeing, at EIF.