Children as young as two years old are experiencing mental disorders, according to new statistics from NHS Digital.
One in eighteen (5.5 per cent) pre-school children were identified as having at least one mental disorder, the data showed. It is the first time the prevalence of such disorders in two to four year olds has been recorded in England.
Researchers noted these are ‘experimental statistics’, as information was collected from parents instead of the children themselves.
Overall, mental disorders have risen among children in England. Among five to 19-year-olds, one in eight had a mental disorder in 2017 – rising from 10.1 per cent in 2004 to 11.2 per cent in 2017.
To put that into perspective: if you had a class of 24 children, three of them would have a mental disorder.
The data collected information from 9,117 children and young people, and their parents or teachers. Mental disorders were grouped into four categories – emotional, behavioural, hyperactivity and other less common disorders. It’s worth noting mental health is not the same as a mental disorder – to count as a disorder, symptoms must have caused “significant distress” to the child.
Emotional disorders have become more common in five to 15-year-olds – rising from 3.9 per cent in 2004 to 5.8 per cent in 2017. All other types of disorder, remained similar in prevalence for this age group.
Different disorders were found to be more or less common at different stages of childhood, with rates of mental disorder higher in older age groups.
Behavioural disorders were evident in one in 40 (2.5 per cent) preschool children, mainly in the form of oppositional defiant disorder (1.9 per cent), which is characterised by negative and disruptive behaviours.
Among young people, one in six (16.9 per cent) 17 to 19-year-olds were found to have a mental disorder, with one in 16 (6.4 per cent) experiencing more than one mental disorder at the time of interview.
Alarmingly, one quarter (25.5 per cent) of 11 to 16-year-olds with a mental disorder had self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point, compared to 3 per cent of those who were not diagnosed as having a mental disorder.
In 17 to 19-year-olds with a mental disorder, nearly half (46.8 per cent) had self harmed or made a suicide attempt.
One third (34.9 per cent) of young people aged 14 to 19-years-old who identified as LGBT+ had a mental disorder, as opposed to 13.2 per cent of those who identified as heterosexual.
Katharine Sadler, Research Director at the National Centre for Social Research, which carried out the survey, said the results provide further evidence that the mental health of children and young people must be addressed.
“If we are to protect future generations, we need to better understand and support those facing mental health issues,” she said. “We hope these findings help to inform the government and wider society, and shape policy moving forwards.”
Sarah Hughes, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, called for sustained investment in mental health services.
“Today’s survey results underline the case for a comprehensive approach to improving children’s mental health,” she said. “Childhood mental health difficulties are inextricably linked to social and economic inequalities, the adversities children encounter and the environments they live in.
“That means investing not just in more and better mental health services for children and young people but in taking action across government to protect and promote mental wellbeing.”