Poorest children are more likely to have mental health issues

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Children from families with the lowest incomes are four times more likely to have psychological problems than those from the richest families, evidence shows.

However, a majority of the poorest children facing these problems have not seen a psychologist.

These findings are part of a major new analysis which suggests that poor childhood mental health is costing the UK a total of £550 billion in lost earnings.

Broken down, this means that someone who experiences psychological health problems during their childhood will lose more than £300,000 in income during their adult lives.

The findings come after the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, confirmed that this week’s Budget would allocate £1.25 billion to mental health services. He said the funding is intended to give the NHS the ability to treat more than 100,000 young people by 2020.

The research has been published by the UCL Institute of Education, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Rand Corporation, and it estimates that there are 4.3 million people who have been affected by mental health issues during their childhood.

The data shows that adults who struggled with mental health issues as children tend to work fewer hours and earn less. They are also more likely to experience unemployment.

As a result, at age 23 they earn 20 per cent less than those who have not experienced childhood psychological problems, at 33 they are 24 per cent worse off, and at 50 they earn 30 per cent less.

The earnings analysis is based on information from the National Child Development Study, which followed the lives of around 17,000 people between 1958 and 2008.

At the same time, using data from the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study, researchers have found that 16 per cent of the poorest children in the studies have experienced mental health problems compared to just four per cent of children from the richest families.

Despite this, they found that 60 per cent of the children living in the lowest income families who have had mental health problems have not seen a psychologist.

Dr James P Smith, chair in labour markets and demographic studies at the Rand Corporation, a not-for-profit research body, presented the findings at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies conference in London on Monday (March 16).

He said: “In many cases, this is a family issue and not simply a child issue. So, treatments for the child only are often not enough. 

“However, there should be a concerted effort to identify these issues earlier in childhood, and governments around the world should be investing far more heavily in identifying therapies which work. This could hugely improve many people’s quality of life.”

Speaking about the wider earnings findings, Dr Smith added: “The total economic costs of psychological health problems in childhood are much larger than physical health problems.”

He continued: “At age 42, for example, UK adults who experienced childhood psychological problems earn almost a third less, on average, than those who had a major physical problem in their youth.”

 


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