A survey conducted by NHS Digital to explore child mental health found the rates of children who are experiencing a probable mental disorder had increased by almost half since 2017. It used to be one in nine (10.8%) but by July this year it was one in six (16%).
The increase was fastest amongst primary school aged children, with the rate increasing to 14% up from 9% in 2017. However, the likelihood a mental health issue would be identified increased with age. This means lots of younger children won’t be getting the help they need, making it more likely their problems will last longer and become more severe.
Impact of Covid-19
Some of these worrying findings are likely explained by the impact of COVID-19 and the upheavals and restrictions put in place to deal with it. The research looked specificially at how the coronavirus might have affected people’s mental health.
A large number of the children and young people surveyed said that lockdown had made their life worse whether or not they were likely to be experiencing mental health problems. Though certain things were more common for children who had a probable disorder including being more worried about COVID-19 and missing school, sleep problems and feeling lonely.
30% of children whose parent experienced psychological distress also had a probable mental disorder and 28% lived in a family who reported problems with family functioning. Children with a probable disorder were also more likely to have witnessed family arguments and were less likely to have spent time together as a family. This clearly shows the real impact of family dynamics on child mental health.
Almost a third of children lived in a household that had experienced a fall in income and a third lived in a household where someone had been furloughed or used the self-employed support scheme. Children with a probable mental disorder were more likely to live in a household that had fallen behind with payments.
Worryingly, children with a mental health problem were less likely to receive regular support from their school during the lockdown, with some trying to get help for mental health problems but not getting the help they needed.
What this new research clearly shows is that child mental health is getting worse and that the pandemic and the policies in place are having an impact. It appears that more needs to be done to support children and especially their families as they negotiate the implications of COVID-19 now and in the future.