The new State of the Nation report shows that older secondary school students report poorer wellbeing than younger ones
“It is unfair on staff and pupils for schools to be left to struggle to paper over the cracks left by an unacceptable postcode lottery in early support and mental health treatment in which many children face long waits for treatment or are told their problems are not bad enough to warrant help.” Paul Whiteman, general secretary, NAHT
One in four children aged 17-19 now has a probable mental disorder, according to a new report from the Department for Education (DfE).
Last week, the DfE has released a State of the Nation report on the mental health of children and young people, which analysed statistics from on the personal wellbeing of children and young people in England and the UK published between September 2021 and July 2022. The data came from a variety of sources including government, academic, voluntary and private sector organisations.
The report, which covers the age range 5-24, states that rates of probable mental disorders and eating problems remain at elevated levels compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on parent/carer reports, children’s behavioural and attentional difficulties remained relatively stable between July 2021 and March 2022, while children’s emotional difficulties increased since during this period.
Rates of probable mental disorder among younger age groups have remained consistent in recent years, the report says, but amongst 17- to 19-year-olds, the proportion increased to one in four in 2022, up from 1 in 6 in 2021. Rates of eating problems and self-harm were also higher in older age groups.
Secondary-age boys reported better wellbeing than girls throughout the 2021/22 academic year on all measures, the report finds, consistent with State of the Nation reports in previous years. Among secondary-aged pupils, older pupils consistently reported poorer wellbeing than younger pupils. Secondary-age pupils with special educational needs (SEN) were more likely to report low wellbeing on some time points and in some measures than those without SEN in 2021/22, though there was “no consistent pattern”. Secondary-age white pupils reported greater anxiousness than those from an ethnic minority background throughout the 2021/22 academic year.
Responding to the findings, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, the school leaders’ union, said: “These extremely worrying findings chime with the experiences of our members, who have seen the damaging impact of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis on children exacerbate long-standing concerns around young people’s wellbeing and mental health.
“School leaders and their staff work tirelessly to identify mental health needs and support children’s well-being, but they are not mental health specialists and they need to be able to draw on the expertise and support of specialist services.
“It is unfair on staff and pupils for schools to be left to struggle to paper over the cracks left by an unacceptable postcode lottery in early support and mental health treatment in which many children face long waits for treatment or are told their problems are not bad enough to warrant help.”
Gemma Byrne, head of health policy and campaigns at the charity Mind, said the charity was calling on the government to “invest in early support hubs for young people. These would “offer easy-to-access, drop-in mental health support for young people when they first start to experience mental health problems rather than waiting until they reach crisis point.”
The DfE’s State of the Nation report confirms that the mental health of older teenagers has worsened in recent years. We agree with Paul Whiteman of NAHT that teachers are not appropriately trained to deal with the increasing mental health problems experienced by young people. We support the call to have better early mental health intervention, such as drop-in hubs, where young people can find support before their mental health problems become severe.