A quarter of 17-19-year-olds have a probable mental disorder, survey shows

Survey results show that children living in poverty were far more likely to experience mental health problems

1st December 2022 about a 3 minute read
"Young people and their families cannot be sidelined any longer by the government, who need to prioritise the crisis in youth mental health as a matter of national emergency.” Sophie Corlett, interim chief executive, Mind

One in four young people between the ages of 17 and 19 in England has a probable mental disorder in 2022, according to a new report from NHS Digital.

The report, which is based on an online survey of 2,866 children and young people aged seven and above, who have been followed since April 2017. It shows an increase from one in six with a probably mental disorder in 2021. It also found that 18% of children aged seven to 16 years and 22% of young people aged 17 to 24 years had a probable mental disorder.

The rates of mental disorders among teenage boys and girls were similar, but in the 17-24 age group, women were twice as likely to have a mental disorder as men.

Children and young people with mental disorders were vastly more likely to live in a household with money issues or using a food bank. Among 17 to 22 year olds with a probable mental disorder, 14.8% reported living in a household that had experienced not being able to buy enough food or using a food bank in the past year, compared with 2.1% of young people unlikely to have a mental disorder.

Failing an ‘entire generation’

The mental health charity Mind told the BBC that the UK government “will be failing an entire generation unless it prioritises investment in young people’s mental-health services”.

Mind’s interim chief executive officer Sophie Corlett said that funding should be directed towards mental-health hubs for young people in England, where they can go when they first start to struggle with their mental health: “The earlier a young person gets support for their mental health, the more effective that support is likely to be. Young people and their families cannot be sidelined any longer by the government, who need to prioritise the crisis in youth mental health as a matter of national emergency.”

When the survey series, entitled The Mental Health of Children and Young People, began in 2017, the children and young people who took part were aged between two and 19. In the case of the younger children, the parents completed the survey on their behalf. The same cohort has been followed over the course of five years, which means that in 2022, the youngest participants were seven and the oldest 24.

The 2017 survey, which used a random probability sample, was carried out face-to-face, but subsequent surveys have been carried out online.

The current survey, carried out in April 2022, assessed different aspects of mental health, including emotional problems, behaviour and relationships.

The children and young people were then classified by how likely they were to have a mental disorder – unlikely, possible or probable – without being seen or diagnosed by a mental-health specialist.

In the 11-16 age group, one in eight of those using social media reported that they had been bullied online. Amongst those with a probable mental disorder, the rate rose to 29.4%.

FCC Insight

A number of surveys this year have shown a decline in mental health, particularly in young people. This latest survey by NHS Digital is particularly valuable for two reasons. One is that the original respondents, surveyed in 2017, were drawn from a random probability sample. The second is that the survey shows change in the same cohort over time. This can provide confidence in a set of results that show that young people’s mental health has deteriorated over five years. It’s particularly shocking that one in four of those aged 17-19 have a mental health disorder. The revelation that 14% of those with a probable disorder, compared with 2% of those without, were in households using food banks or unable to buy food, shows a link between poverty and mental health. It is unclear which is dominant in causation – however it is critical to ensure support is provided as a priority. These stark figures should be a wake-up call to government, who can no longer ignore the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on the mental health of children and young people.