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Mental health

Some of the most common mental disorders experienced by young people include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, behavioural disorders and eating disorders. Mental health problems have important implications for all aspects of young people’s lives.

Among boys the likelihood of a disorder is highest at age 11-16.  Among girls, it is 17-19

Mental health during Covid-19

Children and young people have been less affected than other age groups by coronavirus infection itself, but have been disproportionately impacted by the social, educational and economic impacts of the pandemic. Research on the wellbeing and mental health outcomes has been ongoing throughout 2020 and 2021. There has been a considerable amount of variation in the data on impact, with some groups being more affected than others (Hagell 2021).

85% of 10-17 year olds felt they had coped with life overall during the Covid-19 pandemicThere were consistent reports of increased levels of loneliness across the age range as a result of the lockdowns resulting from the pandemic. For example the Scottish TeenCovidLife study reported that the number of 12-17 year olds feeling lonely was three times higher during lockdown compared with pre-lockdown levels (Generation Scotland, 2020). Although many young people will recover as life begins to return to normal (particularly education), there may be longer lasting effects in groups where loneliness levels were already higher, such as young adults and care leavers.

The research evidence on wellbeing was summarised by the Department for Education ‘State of the nation 2020: children and young people’s wellbeing’ report in October 2020. This concluded that overall children and young people had quite stable personal wellbeing during the pandemic. In the 2021 Children’s Society annual survey, 85% of children and young people rated their level of coping with life overall during the pandemic at or above the midpoint of a scale from 0 to 10 (Children’s Society, 2021).

16% of 16-24 year olds reported having a mental health condition in 2021The picture for mental health outcomes following the pandemic is mixed. Early data from some studies showed a sort of ‘shock’ effect at the outset, but studies taking a longer term view seemed to show a more nuanced picture. In June 2020 NHS Digital (2020b) published new prevalence data on ‘probably mental health disorders’. Compared to the baseline data from 2017 the numbers showed an increase overall, but this was a summary result for a wide age range and wide range of disorder types, and may reflect a continuation of an established trend for rising problems that was already in pace before the pandemic. Probably mental health disorders for 11-16 year olds rose from 12.6% to 17.6%. For 17-22 year olds, rates were 20% overall, 27% for young women.

Estimates vary depending on source. Data from general practitioners in England for 16-24 year olds in 2021 suggested a slightly lower figure of 16%.

The 2020 survey also showed that a higher proportion of young people with a probable mental disorder engaged in other health risk activities on four or more days in the past week, compared to young people unlikely to have a mental disorder. For example, 19.3% of young people with a probable mental disorder had smoked one or more cigarettes, while 10.8% had used cannabis or other drugs. This compares with 5.4% and 1.6% respectively for young people unlikely to have a mental disorder (NHS Digital, 2020b).

All data correct as of 1st November 2021