One in eight students have a mental health disorder, official NHS figures confirm

The true scale of the mental health crisis among young people has been revealed for the first time by official NHS statistics.

They show that 12.8 per cent – roughly one in eight – five to 19-year-olds had at least one mental health disorder when assessed in 2017. This figure rises to 16.9 per cent of 17 to 19-year-olds.

The analysis also finds that one in four children aged 11 to 16 with a mental health problem have self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point. This figure rises to almost half of young people aged 17 to 18 with a disorder.

The statistics show a clear link between mental health problems and the use of social media. There are also concerning links with exclusion and truancy.

The figures are grouped into four areas: emotional, behavioural, hyperactivity and other less common disorders. Emotional disorders were the most common, affecting 8.1 per cent of five to 19-year-olds in 2017, with higher rates for girls than boys.

Of these, anxiety-related disorders were the most common (7.2 per cent).

The analysis states that while emotional disorders have become more common in five to 15-year-olds, up from 4.3 per cent in 1999 to 5.8 per cent by 2017, “all other types of disorder – behavioural, hyperactivity and other less common disorders – have remained broadly stable”.

It is the first time since 2004 that the NHS has commissioned an analysis on the prevalence of young people’s mental health problems. The research has been conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, the Office for National Statistics and Youthinmind and is based on a survey of 9,117 children and young people.

The last time data was collected, in 2004, 10.1 per cent of five to 15-year-olds had at least one mental health disorder. The comparable figure for 2017 is 11.2 per cent.

The 2017 figures show that one in 18 infants aged two to four had a disorder. This rises to one in 10 primary pupils (aged five to 10), for whom emotional (five per cent) and behavioural (4.1 per cent) disorders are the most common.

The figure rises again at secondary, with one in seven 11 to 16-year-olds having at least one disorder, with emotional disorders the most common (nine per cent).

Finally, one in six 17 to 19-year-olds had at least one disorder, rising to one in four among females. Again emotional disorders (14.9 per cent) were the most common, with 13.1 per cent identifying with anxiety and 4.8 per cent depression.

The report warns that young people who use social media everyday are more likely to have a mental health disorder. Those with mental health problems also tended to be on social media for longer.

It states: “Among young people who used social media daily, those with a disorder tended to be on social media for longer – 29.4 per cent of daily users with a disorder were on social media for more than four hours on a typical school day (compared with 12 per cent of daily users without a disorder).

“Eleven to 19-year-olds girls with a mental disorder were more likely to feel that they compared themselves to others on social media. Young people with a disorder (both girls and boys) were more likely to feel that the number of ‘likes’ they got affected their mood than those without a disorder."

At ages 11 to 16, children with a disorder are also more likely to truant than those without (8.5 vs 0.8 per cent) and school exclusion is more common too (6.8 vs 0.5 per cent). Boys with a mental health disorder are also more likely to be excluded than girls (9.9 vs 2.4 per cent). Students with hyperactivity or behavioural disorders are the most likely to be excluded.

  • Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017, NHS Digital, November 2018: