Mental health is a topic that has only very recently come into the forefront after an incredibly long period of silence. It is often something that people prefer not to address, or feel is not relevant to them and can in turn be a misunderstood subject. The negative stigma and discrimination around mental health can be driving force in stopping people with mental health disorders seek help. Therefore, it is important that we all contribute to raising awareness of the reality of mental health and its importance in people of all ages and backgrounds.
My name is Sabrina and I am a Research Scientist at Future Genetics. From January 1999 to December 2017, the NHS carried out major surveys of the mental health of children and young people in England and published a report of the findings on the 22nd of November of this year. A number of different types of disorders were assessed for with ‘rigorous, detailed and consistent methods’. Amongst these disorders were; emotional disorders, behavioural disorders, hyperactivity disorders and less common disorders.
Overall, the results showed that one in eight (12.8%) of 5 to 19 year olds have at least one mental health disorder, primarily being emotional disorders, as you can see by this bar chart (Figure 1). This also represents the rise in rates of emotional mental health disorders as age increases.
Figure 1: Rates of different types of disorder in 5 to 19-year olds by age. (NHS Digital, 2018)
Mental Health and Gender
From ages 2 to 10, boys were more likely than girls to have a disorder, with boys aged 5 to 10 being almost twice as likely than girls of the same age to have a mental health disorder. Amongst the 11 to 16-year olds, girls and boys were equally likely to have a disorder. However, girls between the ages of 17 and 19 were more than twice as likely as boys to have a disorder.
Compared with any other demographic group, rates of emotional mental disorders and self-harm were reported to be the highest in young women aged 17 to 19, as presented in the NHS survey. Over half (52.7%) of these girls reported to have self-harmed or had attempted to commit suicide. 5.6% of the girls identified with Body Dysmorphia (BDD) and 1.6% had an eating disorder.
Associations of Mental Disorders
There are multiple influences that can increase the onset of mental health disorders in children, with one being the functioning of the child’s family. In some cases, however, mental health disorders may be the cause of problems within families, which therefore forms a vicious cycle. A child’s mental health can also be affected by their parent’s mental health, the child’s support network, how much they participate in their social surrounding and adverse life events (e.g. Parental separation and/or financial struggles at home).
Other factors that can influence a child’s mental health is their physical well-being and daily social media use. Children aged 11 to 19 with a mental disorder were 10% more likely to use social media daily compared to children of the same age without a disorder. A growing problem linked to social media is the impact it has on young people’s self-esteem, as they are constantly comparing themselves to the perfect picture and consequently thinking less of their own lives.
This survey showed that 1 in 4 children (24.1%) with a disorder had no professional or informal support. This support is critical and can prove to be life-saving in some cases. It is important to acknowledge that regardless of what their age is, we should all be thinking about improving and supporting the mental health of children and young people and raising awareness of this issue.
If you need any help or information regarding child mental health, please phone or visit any of the numbers or sites down below.
Written by Sabrina K Bolia (Future Genetics Research Scientist)