Time to act on crisis on young people’s mental health

Time to act on crisis on young people's mental health

There has been another saddening rise in mental disorders among our young people. The latest data shows that 18% of 7-16 year-olds have a probable health disorder. This increases to 22% for 17-24 year-olds. Notably, for younger children, boys are more likely to have a mental disorder than girls. This changes dramatically so that 31% of all young women (17 – 24 year-olds) are likely to have a mental disorder. 

Chart Figure 1.1: Percentage of children and young people with a probable mental disorder, by age and sex, 2022
Source: Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2022 - wave 3 follow up to the 2017 survey

This is a national crisis that is inflicting too many young people, their families and their friends. Whilst we urgently need more support to ensure every young person gets the support they need, we also need to take a step back and ask: what are we doing that is causing this? How do we stop the causes rather than just address the symptoms? 

Recent findings and key insights

Poverty plays a massive contribution, and the data shows that. As does the transition to poverty.

  • 17.8% of children with a probable mental disorder lived in a household that had fallen behind with bills, rent or mortgage, compared with 7.6% of those unlikely to have a mental disorder.
  • Living in a home, area, or attending a school where you don’t feel safe, valued and included is also a major risk factor in mental ill-health.
For school leaders the challenge is to use this data and turn it around into challenges to discuss with all of your staff: 

1. How can we ensure that the harmful effects of poverty are eradicated at school, as much as we can, knowing it is a never-ending battle?  

2. How can ensure that every child is valued, included and fully safe at school?

If we can get these two parts right, we will be providing young people with a special place that protects and promotes their mental health, and general well-being as well as enables them to flourish in the fullest sense.

We have the ability to do this, and indeed already are. For many young people, school is the life raft they cling to.

We urgently need better support for young people, and we also urgently need to do what we can to reduce the causes of mental disorders.
Notes from the data: 
  • The prevalence of a probable mental disorder in children aged 7 to 16 years rose between 2017 and 2020, from 12.1% in 2017 to 16.7% in 2020. In 2021, 17.8% of children in this age group had a probable mental disorder, and in 2022 the figure was 18.0%.
  • School absence rates were higher in children with a probable mental disorder; 12.6% missed more than 15 days of school compared with 3.9% of those unlikely to have a mental disorder. 
  • The great majority of children (92.5%) agreed that they have at least 1 friend that they can turn to for support, and most (82.0%) reported that they felt safe at school. 75.8% agreed “I can be myself at school” and 65.8% agreed that they “enjoy learning at school”. 
  • In terms of worries about the impact of COVID-19 at school, 43.5% agreed that “I am worried about the effect COVID-19 might have on my future exam results” and 38.6% agreed that “I am worried about the effect COVID-19 has had on my schoolwork”. 


Children with a probable mental disorder were less likely to have positive views of school, as follows: 

  • 47.6% agreed that “I can be myself at school”, compared with 86.0% of those unlikely to have a mental disorder 
  • 61.2% agreed that “I feel safe when I am at school”, compared with 89.2% of those unlikely to have a mental disorder 
  • 51.5% agreed that “I enjoy learning at school”, compared with 73.1% of those unlikely to have a mental disorder 
  • 77.8% agreed that “I have at least 1 friend I can turn to for support” compared with 97.0% of those unlikely 
  • 1 in 4 (25.1%) 11 to 16 year olds accessed mental health and well-being support at school in the past year; 59.8% of children with a probable mental disorder reported use.
The majority of children were positive about access to support at school: 83.0% knew how to get support and 75.9% agreed they were able to access support if they needed to. However, children were less likely to be positive about the value or appropriateness of the support available at school: 61.1% agreed it would be helpful and 57.0% felt they would feel comfortable talking about their mental health with adults at their school. 
It’s time to empower education professionals to support the mental health needs of the whole school community.
At Minds Ahead, we work exclusively with schools and educational settings supporting staff to improve their mental health governance, strategy, leadership and policy for the benefit of the whole school community. We do this providing masters level qualifications in school mental health as well as working in partnership to strengthen mental health for all schools. 
Together, we can change pupils’ mental health for the better!

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Author: Analytical Services, Population Health, Clinical Audit & Specialist Care Team. Lead Analyst: Walt Treloar. Published by NHS Digital, part of the Government Statistical Service. Copyright © 2022, Health and Social Care Information Centre. The Health and Social Care Information Centre is a non-departmental body created by statute, also known as NHS Digital. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2022-follow-up-to-the-2017-survey/part-1—mental-health Accessed 9th December 2022.