NHS Digital Report 2020: A response

The NHS has released a follow-up to their 2017 survey, Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020.

This report looks at the mental health of children and young people in England in July 2020, and changes since 2017. It examines the experiences of family life, education and services, as well as worries and anxieties during the coronavirus pandemic.

The report shows a significant decline in young people’s mental health. This is not surprising as the period in question includes the lockdown and the effects of their experience over the last eight months.

It is clear that children who were already vulnerable to mental health problems are more at risk because of family stress and financial insecurity, with, for example, 5-16-year-olds living in a family where they struggled to pay the bills, being more than twice as likely to have a mental health problem.

Lockdown has made life worse for most children and young people with 54% of 11-16year olds and 59% of 17-22-year-old reporting a decline in their mental health.

“Because it can be scary when your mum’s got it and your dad’s got it; it can be scary thinking that it will spread. Everyone has mental health, but sometimes it’s harder for people to control. I didn’t used to get sad about mum, but I do have a better understanding now”. Young girl, KidsTime Workshop

It is also of interest to note that the report shows as children grow into adulthood, a gap appears between girls and boys, with girls aged between 17-22 being more than twice as likely to report mental health problems. It is not clear why this is but we can speculate that, among other stressors, there is enormous pressure on young women to meet the very exacting standards set by social media, giving rise to insecurity and low self-esteem.

The report shows clearly that in households where there is family discord and financial stress the prevalence of mental health problems in the children is greater. It is obvious that where parents struggle with their own mental health there will be an impact on the children and young people, who often try to help by taking on adult responsibilities. There is no support for these children and young people because we don’t recognise their vulnerability. They fall between different service boundaries and they are not yet ill, which means they are nobody’s responsibility.

Without support these young carers will become the patients of the future, adding to the burden on health and social care. How many more reports like this will it take for us to pay attention to this very large group of vulnerable children? We need a national policy and early support to build resilience and break the intergenerational cycle of mental illness.