New report shows mental illness now ‘part and parcel of growth’.

Anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders are now part and parcel of growing up, a leading expert warns at the launch of a new report highlighting the scale of mental illness among young people.

The analysis, published last week, reveals that up to one in five 13-14-year-olds have a probable eating disorder and one in six 12-15-year-olds have self-harmed in the past 12 months. The report notes self-harm is the strongest predictor of death by suicide.
Disturbingly, the study also shows that the average age of onset of mental health disorders is just five-and-a-half years.

The analysis, among the most comprehensive of its kind, looked at a range of health, education and social care records.
It shows that child mental health referrals have trebled since 2017-18, reaching almost a million last year to 949,000, accounting for almost 10 per cent of all children in England.

It also showed that 18 percent of 7- to 16-year-olds and 22 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds have a probable mental illness. This is an increase of one in 9 children – of the same age groups – before the pandemic.

The study, published by child-focused think tank the Center for Young Lives and policy research group Child of the North, also highlights the deep ramifications of the child mental health crisis. Of young people aged 7-16 with mental health problems, 72 per cent suffer from sleep problems and 13 per cent miss 15 or more days of school.
However, the study also shows that many children are not getting the support they need.

The report states: The children’s mental health system is plagued by chronic waiting lists and a postcode provision lottery, and thousands of children and young people continue to struggle without support.
It says more than 32,000 children waited two years for help by the end of 2022/3 and that up to a third of referrals to children’s mental health services are canceled before treatment begins due to lack of capacity.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the Center for Young Lives and former children’s commissioner, said: Poor mental health has become an integral part of growing up for too many children and young people. This report shows the wave of need that has been growing over the past decade and skyrocketed during the pandemic. Services are caving in under pressure and can’t keep up. This is going in a dangerous direction for the future.

She added: I have heard so many heartbreaking stories about the lengths children and parents have gone to for support, including, sadly, suicide attempts, but we still seem to be far from providing prevention, early help and treatment than every young person with mental health needs.

The report Improving mental health and wellbeing in and through educational settings calls on the government to take urgent action to improve children’s mental health by focusing on schools.

It calls for expanded mental health support teams in all schools, new one-stop shops for parents and children to find local support, and the national roll-out of local well-being surveys to track the emotional temperature of schoolchildren.

Anne Longfield added: Schools have a crucial role to play in supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing. However, half of England’s school-aged children – four million children – will not have access to mental health support teams under current plans. We need to increase support for schools if we hope to reduce the number of children suffering from mental health problems.

Dr Camilla Kingdon, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: Sadly, almost 50 per cent of lifelong mental health conditions are established by the age of 14. We have a crucial window of opportunity to intervene to support children with mental health problems. We cannot let these children slip through the system without help.

Professor Mark Mon Williams, co-editor of the report, said: There is no better measure of a nation’s health than the mental wellbeing of its children and young people. The statistics on children’s mental health are truly heartbreaking and a national scandal that will cost us dearly in the long run if we don’t start taking it seriously.

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