Mental health and well-being trends among children and young people in the UK, 1995–2014: analysis of repeated cross-sectional national health surveys
Jacqueline Pitchforth, Katie Fahy, Tasmin Ford and Miranda Wolpert
Background: There is a growing concern about the mental health of children and young people (CYP) in the UK, with increasing demand for counselling services, admissions for self-harm and referrals to mental health services. We investigated whether there have been similar recent trends in selected mental health outcomes among CYP in national health surveys from England, Scotland and Wales.
Methods: Data were analysed from 140 830 participants (4–24 years, stratified into 4–12, 13–15, 16–24 years) in 36 national surveys in England, Scotland and Wales, 1995–2014. Regression models were used to examine time trends in seven parent/self-reported variables: general health, any long-standing health condition, long-standing mental health condition; Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Score (WEMWBS), above-threshold Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire Total (SDQT) score, SDQ Emotion (SDQE) score, General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) score.
Results: Across all participants aged 4–24, long-standing mental health conditions increased in England (0.8–4.8% over 19 years), Scotland (2.3–6.0%, 11 years) and Wales (2.6–4.1%, 7 years) (all p < 0.001). Among young children (4–12 years), the proportion reporting high SDQT and SDQE scores decreased significantly among both boys and girls in England [SDQE: odds ratio (OR) 0.97 (0.96–0.98), p < 0.001] and girls in Scotland [SDQE: OR 0.96 (0.93–0.99), p = 0.005]. The proportion with high SDQE scores (13–15 years) decreased in England [OR 0.98 (0.96–0.99), p = 0.006] but increased in Wales [OR 1.07 (1.03–1.10), p < 0.001]. The proportion with high GHQ scores decreased among English women (16–24 years) [OR 0.98 (0.98–0.99), p = 0.002].
Conclusions: Despite a striking increase in the reported prevalence of long-standing mental health conditions among UK CYP, there was relatively little change in questionnaire scores reflecting psychological distress and emotional well-being.
You might also like...
Creating ACE-informed places: promoting a whole-system approach to tackling adverse childhood experiences in local communities
This project is aiming to improve how effectively public services in England prevent and mitigate the negative impact of adve...
The Health Foundation has responded to the National Audit Office report on pressures on children's social care
This project is aiming to address the unmet needs of children and young people in West Kent who use urgent care services most...
Pitchforth, J., Fahy, K., Ford, T., Wolpert, M., Viner, R., & Hargreaves, D. (n.d.). Mental health and well-being trends among children and young people in the UK, 1995–2014: Analysis of repeated cross-sectional national health surveys. Psychological Medicine, 1-11. doi:10.1017/S0033291718001757
Work with us
We look for talented and passionate individuals as everyone at the Health Foundation has an important role to play.View current vacancies
The Q Community
Q is an initiative connecting people with improvement expertise across the UK.Find out more