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Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

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2 Contemporary children’s mental health

The previous section explored a brief snapshot of the history of children’s mental health and highlighted that children experiencing mental health problems is not a new phenomenon. Children have always had mental health problems, but because of their status in society, their needs have not always been recognised and addressed. Nowadays, in part due to advances in our ability to diagnose mental health conditions in children, it has been estimated that as many as 10%–20% of children have a diagnosable mental health condition (World Health Organization, 2019). For many, their issues will be in the ‘mild-to-moderate’ range, while others will have severe and possibly enduring mental health conditions. This situation is of concern to individuals and their families and also has long-term consequences for society. However, at this point, it is important to have a look at some of the evidence relating to the relatively high prevalence of mental health conditions in children.

This is a photograph of a child with a teddy. They are sitting on the floor and looking out of a window.
Figure 7 Thinking about mental health in young children

Activity 4 Exploring some of the facts around children and their mental health

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Professor Tamsin Ford, a child psychiatrist, led a study about children and young people’s mental health, and the findings were reported in a BBC news article. In a nutshell, the study was based on assessments completed with 10,000 child and adolescent participants. Follow this link to access the article (make sure to open the link in a new window/tab so you can return here easily):

Is young people’s mental health getting worse? [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

As you read the article, consider that the report states that in 1999, the incidence of children with a mental health condition was estimated to be 11.4% of children below the age of 16. In 2017, the proportion was estimated to have increased to 13.7%. So, on the surface, over an 18-year period, there was a 2.3% increase in the number of children who were reported as having a mental health problem. However, clearly establishing how much of the reported rise represented an actual increase in children and young people experiencing problems, and how much is down to better awareness of symptoms and/or diagnosis, is challenging.

Consider the reasons given in the report for the possible increase in terms of proportionately more children having mental health conditions.

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As you read the report, you may have been struck by the fact that Ford was surprised that there had not been a bigger increase in the number of children being diagnosed with a mental health condition. You may have also noticed in the timeline that CAMHS was set up in 1995. This was a key event in addressing children’s mental health because numerous specialist services were created to support children with mental health conditions.

Although this report states there has ‘only’ been a 2.3% increase in the number of children being diagnosed with a mental health condition between 1999 and 2017, this still means that there is a sizeable proportion of children living with a mental health condition. Clearly, it is important to consider the reasons why there are such significant numbers of children with compromised mental health, both to further our understanding, but also to support children to develop positive mental health. You will explore these issues in the rest of this course.