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Child mental health: is it in crisis?
Child mental health: is it in crisis?

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1.1 What does the evidence suggest?

‘The Child of the New Century’ study, also known as the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), includes around 19,000 participants born across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2000–2. At age 17 years, participants were assessed in terms of key mental health measures, specifically the percentage categorised as experiencing high psychological distress, the percentage who had self-harmed and the percentage who had attempted suicide. The results suggested that rates were similar across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the three outcomes considered (Patalay and Fitzsimons, 2020). Other key findings in terms of the mental health of young people in the UK included:

  • The heightened levels of severe mental health difficulties, for instance almost one-quarter (24.1%) of 17-year-olds had self-harmed in the previous 12 months.
  • The major sex differences noted, such that 22.1% of females and 10.1% of males experienced high levels of psychological distress.
  • The large inequalities, including the compromised mental health of sexual minorities (e.g., lesbian, gay and bisexual youth) and those from lower income households.
(Patalay and Fitzsimons, 2020)

When the results from the MCS were compared to another sizeable population-based study from the UK (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) large increases were noted for key mental health difficulties, specifically depression and self-harm in the decade between 2005 and 2015 (Patalay and Gage, 2019). This adds further weight to the argument that mental health problems are becoming more prevalent among children and young people in the UK.

In addition to the alarm around the levels of mental health problems in children and young people, concern also exists regarding the provision of mental health services. For example, in Scotland the government in their Mental Health Strategy: 2017–2027 (Scottish Government 2017) highlighted increasing access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), reducing waiting times, and ensuring acceptable and high quality care as areas that needed particular attention. In England, a Care Quality Commission (an independent regulator of health and social care) report estimate that only a quarter of children and young people who require treatment for a mental health problem are able to access this treatment. Children and young people also felt that CAMHS staff did not have enough time to provide the quality of care they would like to (Care Quality Commission, 2017, p. 13).