By Clare Harris, Content Director
1 in 6 young people aged 16-24 have symptoms of a common mental disorder such as depression or an anxiety disorder.
Half of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14, with 75% by age 24.
In 2017, suicide was the most common cause of death for both boys (16.2% of all deaths) and girls (13.3%) aged between 5 and 19.
Nearly half of 17-19-year olds with a diagnosable mental health disorder have self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point, rising to 52.7% for young women.
The number of A&E attendances by young people aged 18 or under with a recorded diagnosis of a psychiatric condition has almost tripled since 2010 (xii)
and yet less than 1% of the total NHS budget is spent on children and young people’s mental health services. We are not criticising the NHS, we are huge supporters (and many of us at In Diverse Company have relied on the NHS at critical points in our lives – they do a fantastic job). However, the data paints a clear picture. There is a problem, it’s growing rapidly, and we need to not only ensure the support is there when needed – funding, awareness, and changes in budget decisions at a government level, but also for all of society to consider what is going wrong and what we can all do to help.
We have been working closely with teachers over the last year through our work with the Department of Education. Teachers are working hard on this subject and there is no doubt that they are going the extra mile and care deeply for their pupils. But, again the funding, priorities, complexity, and volume of the problem are overwhelming.
With the health and education system in the UK overwhelmed, let’s look at what are considered the main causes of mental ill-health in children. Having reviewed reports by WHO, UN, OECD and numerous mental health organisations across the world, there are common themes are; bullying, academic pressure, lack of acceptance by peers and lack of support from parents, and of course – increased screen time which has led to changes in lifestyle and exposure to questionable content. The results of this range from the physical – headaches, abdominal pain and backache to the emotional – increases in sleeplessness, eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, depression, attention disorders and at an alarming level, suicide (teenage suicide rates have increased nearly 56% from 2007 to 2017, Center for Disease Control ). All of this is intensified by delayed access to support.
The illustration below shows the determinants of mental health. There are many contributory factors, and this illustration oversimplifies the complexities of how these all interplay. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see all of the different elements that can be contributory factors.
There is no question that childhood mental health has received increased focus and research attention over the last few years. Let’s look at the findings of what is happening in other countries to see what can be learned:
If we look across Europe, we can see the UK is not alone. In the WHO European Region, depression and anxiety disorders fall into the top 5 causes of overall diseases among children and adolescents. Suicide is the leading cause of death among 10–19-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries, and the second-leading cause in high-income countries. Mental ill-health accounts for almost 20% of the burden of disease in the WHO European Region.
Looking further afield, studies in the past 12-18 months from 51 Asian countries showed the general prevalence of child and adolescent mental health problems to also be in the range of 10-20%.
Africa: Far less focus has been paid to childhood mental health across Africa to date. Because of the focus on infectious diseases, mental disorders appear marginal in Africa. We strongly doubt this is the case, however, far more likely that there hasn’t yet been focused attention on this due to funding and the prevalence of more aggressive health issues such as malaria, diarrhoea and HIV/Aids.
US: Nearly 5 million children in the U.S. have some type of serious mental illness. In any given year, 20% of American children will be diagnosed with a mental illness.
In the illustration below, we can see the prevalence of poor mental health across the world – what jumps to mind. Yes, we also noticed the prevalence in higher-income countries.
Are there any bright spots? According to WHO data, Turkey and Belgium are the only countries that have more than 100 mental health nurses for every 100,000 people. Ninety countries have fewer than 10. Japan tops the list for mental health beds in mental health facilities (196 per 100,000), and is third behind Hungary and Germany for mental health beds in general hospitals. Britain is 50th for mental health beds per capita, behind China, Uzbekistan, and Lebanon. (Mental illness: is there really a global epidemic? Guardian, June 2019, M. Rice-Oxley).
Join us tomorrow for part two, where we will be sharing small, habit-building tips to encourage children to find their brave.
 NHS Digital (2018) ‘Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017’ Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2017/2017. Based on 12.8% of 5 to 19-year-olds being identified as having a diagnosable mental health condition.
 National Audit Office (2018) ‘Improving children and young people’s mental health services’. Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Improving-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-services.pdf