Mental ill-health among children in England has reached “unprecedented levels”, as latest figures reveal one in six had a probable mental disorder over the past year.
Health leaders have said urgent action is needed to boost the workforce and expand services to prevent children from reaching a “crisis” point.
“These figures reflect the gaping chasm at the heart of our mental health services caused by a decline in workforce numbers”
New figures from NHS Digital show that during both 2020 and 2021 one in six (17%) six-to-16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder. The rate was the same for those aged 17 to 19.
This was a significant increase on the last dataset from 2017, when one in nine (12%) six-to-16-year-olds and one in 10 (10%) of 17-to-19-year-olds had a probable mental disorder.
The report compares the results of surveys carried out with children and young people in 2017, 2020 and 2021.
More than 16,000 completed surveys were included in the analysis, with 2,541 children and young people taking part in all three questionnaires.
For the most recent survey, participants were also asked about experiences during the coronavirus pandemic and how this had affected their mental health.
Overall, data shows 39% of children aged six to 16 experienced a deterioration in their mental health between 2017 and 2021, while 21% saw an improvement.
Meanwhile, among those aged 17 to 24, 53% experienced a decline in their mental health since 2017 and 15% experienced an improvement.
In both age groups, girls and young women were “more likely” to have experienced a decline in their mental health over the past five years, compared with boys and young men.
Concerningly, the number of 11-to-16-year-olds with “possible eating problems” had increased from 7% in 2017 to 13% in 2021.
Rates were higher among older age groups, with the proportion of people aged 17 to 19 with a possible eating problem rising from 45% in 2017 to 58% in 2021.
For 2021, the survey also covered sleep problems, loneliness, and family life.
“The mental ill-health of many of our children and young people is now at unprecedented levels”
Results showed that more than a quarter (29%) of six-to-10-year-olds, more than a third (38%) of 11-to-16-year-olds, and over half (57%) of 17-to-23-year-olds were impacted by problems with sleep.