The NHS England survey also found that one in five children has a probable mental health disorder
“During lockdown many young people went without social interaction for weeks or months, with vital safeguards such as teachers and school nurses unable to spot the earliest signs.” Tom Quinn, director of external affairs, Beat
There has been a very sharp rise in the number of young people with eating disorders, a survey has found.
NHS England’s Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 report surveyed 2,370 children and young people. The survey presents findings from the fourth in a series of follow up reports to the 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People (MHCYP) survey.
In 2023, 12.5% of 17-to-19-year-olds had an eating disorder, an increase from 0.8% in 2017. Rates among young women in this group were four times higher than in young men – 20.8% in the former, and 5.1% in the latter.
The survey also found that 5.9% of 20 to 25-year-olds, and 2.6% of 11 to 16-year-olds, had an eating disorder. Again, rates in the younger age group were four times higher in girls (4.3%) than boys (1.0%).
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat, an eating disorder charity, called the figures “devastating” and said: “Every day we hear from those who have been failed by the system”.
He said: “Eating disorders are often thought to be rare mental illnesses, but this new data clearly shows that they are far more common than most people realise.
“There will never be a simple reason as to why rates have gone up so dramatically, but the impact of the pandemic cannot be understated.
“During lockdown many young people went without social interaction for weeks or months, with vital safeguards such as teachers and school nurses unable to spot the earliest signs.”
The survey also found that one in five children and young people between the ages of eight to 25, and living in England, had a probable mental disorder. Among 17 to 19-year-olds, the proportion was 23.3%, while in 20 to 25-year-olds it was 21.7%.
Although the rates are high, they have not increased since 2022. There was, however, a rise in rates of probable mental disorders in young people between 2017 and 2022.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s mental health director, said: “Today’s report shows the continued unprecedented pressures faced by young people and reflects the increased demand for NHS children’s mental health services.
“The NHS is providing support for more children and young people than ever before – we have already supported over 700,000 children and young people with their mental health this year and also seen a 47% increase in young people being treated for eating disorders compared to pre-pandemic.
“NHS staff are working harder than ever to meet the increased demand and we have fast-tracked mental health support for millions of pupils in schools and colleges, as well as significantly expanding the children’s mental health workforce. Our partners, especially in the education, voluntary and social care sectors, also have a critical role to play in supporting this effort.
“It is vital that any child or young person struggling, or their family, reaches out for help so they can get the care they need”.
NHS England says that its survey is best data source for trends in children and young people’s mental health and how this has changed since 2017. It covers topics such as bullying, substance use, self-harm and feelings about cost of living, education, climate change and the future.
The survey was carried out earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), University of Cambridge and University of Exeter.
The dramatic rise in eating disorders, which shows that 12.5% of 17-19 year olds now have an eating disorder, compared with only 0.8% in 2017, is a huge cause for concern. This is a very sharp rise in a short period of time, and we need both to have more research investigating the causes, and an increase in targeted interventions to prevent and treat such disorders. While it is encouraging, more generally, to see that rates of mental ill-health among young children have stabilised since last year, they remain remarkably high, and suggest that the mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be felt.