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Introduction to adolescent mental health
Introduction to adolescent mental health

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1 Adolescent mental health in context

Statistics can be baffling if they are presented without their full context as understanding this can help us understand what the numbers mean. To get you thinking about context, carry out the first activity now.

Activity 1: The size of the issue

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Step 1: If you had to guess how many children were experiencing mental health issues at any one time, which one of these figures would you choose? Click a percentage figure and read the comment. There is a long description button below the figure if this is easier to learn from.

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Interactive Figure 2: Mental health of Children and young people in England (2017)
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As you will discover, all these figures are correct in some way, but it depends on the age of the child and what we mean when we say ‘mental disorder’ as well as where and when we are counting these issues. For example, all the figures presented here come from a large survey of the mental health of children and young people in England, which was carried out in 2017. A survey of a different country in another year is likely to produce different figures.

It is also helpful to know how the figures were obtained, for example, whether it was a large survey or a handful of interviews.

Step 2: Did any of the information surprise you or raise questions for you? Jot down a note to yourself to record your first thoughts about the size of mental health disorders. (Please note, the text response boxes are completely anonymous and only accessible by you. They can be saved for you to refer back to at another time.)

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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Figures such as Interactive Figure 2, that summarise a large amount of data, can often raise questions of detail and meanings. In the figure it refers to emotional disorders and mental disorders. You might have wondered whether or not an ‘emotional disorder’ is classified as a ‘mental disorder’, or whether it is a separate thing (it does, in fact, come under the umbrella of mental disorder). You may also have asked whether a ‘mental disorder’ is a severe form of mental illness or whether it covers things such as mild depression and anxiety. Use of the term ’disorder’ itself is disputed in some circles. The terms mental health problems and mental illness are used throughout this course and as you progress you’ll gain many insights into the subject of terminology that is used to describe mental health problems and issues.

Clearly, Interactive Figure 2 shows that something is happening between the ages of 2 and 19, as the rates of mental disorder increase but what might be behind this increase? Our best evidence suggests that it is likely to be the result of a complex, dynamic mixture of physical and social development occurring within particular settings. This course examines what happens roughly between the ages of 10 and 19. This period of time in a young person’s life is sometimes called adolescence.

The statistics you just looked at showed the situation in 2017. Did you perhaps ask yourself, ‘is that better or worse than previous years?’, and ‘What’s the situation now’? You’ll consider these types of time-related trends next.