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Children's Mental Health Check-In 2023: Calls for Innovative Solutions

By Kanjo
11 min
Last updated
February 6, 2023
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With Children's Mental Health Week upon us, it is beneficial to prepare for the future of family wellbeing by reflecting on the status quo — and how we got here. Let us take a look at three key statistics to better understand the state of children's mental health today.

1. As of July 2021, 20% of children between the age of 5 to 16 in the UK were identified as having a mental health problem. This is a dramatic increase from 11% in 2017.

While efforts to discuss and destigmatize children's mental health have been on the rise in recent years, these alarming statistics underscore the pressing need for more attention and action on this critical issue. Experts are likening the situation to an epidemic, urging for a greater mobilization of resources and research to tackle the growing problem effectively.

One crucial aspect complicating the issue is the influence of cultural shifts on the reporting of mental health problems. Increased public awareness and media coverage of such issues have likely contributed to the rise in reported cases. Additionally, we are now witnessing a generational shift, with millennial parents having distinct perceptions of the topic compared to their predecessors and their children.

Investing in the resolution of this crisis is paramount, as the current allocation of resources falls short of the requirement. While 14% of current local health spending is directed towards mental health, the public healthcare system grapples with multiple challenges across various fields and are already spread thin, making it necessary for businesses to support them with innovative and sustainable solutions.

Mental health issues present unique complexities that set them apart from most other health concerns. Their profound and intricate links to familial, cultural, personal, economic, societal, and educational parameters necessitate multi-faceted and tailored approaches. The idiosyncratic nature of children's mental health makes interventions more challenging and costly to implement and maintain. Thus, funding must be strategically directed towards various public bodies and long-term programs to deliver positive and lasting results.

With a looming epidemic at hand and far-reaching future implications, a viable public health response is imperative. To effectively combat this crisis, new solutions must be pre-emptive, personalized, affordable, accessible, and not biased towards any demographic.

20% of children aged 5 to 16 are identified as having a mental health problem.

2. Approximately 83% of children with mental health needs reported worsened conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it may not come as a surprise that years of fear, restrictions, and isolation have contributed to a surge in mental health problems among children, it is crucial to acknowledge the significance of the pandemic's role in shaping the current state of children's mental health. The unprecedented nature of the situation makes it difficult to fully comprehend the long-term implications on the psychological health of children, adolescents, and adults. While we should not succumb to pessimism, it is essential to remain aware of the pandemic's lasting impact and recognize that we have limited data for reference and comparison, given the unique circumstances.

Even before the outbreak, mental health problems as well as calls for support were on the rise. But despite reaching the year 2022, there has been no reduction in the prevalence of these issues; instead, they have only increased. Surveys suggest that the pandemic, accompanied by many cultural shifts such as remote working parents, homeschooling, and e-commerce adoption, has simply accelerated a trend already in motion.

However, what sets the status quo apart from the pre-existing trends is the introduction of new confounding factors due to the pandemic's rare occurrence and the associated lack of data. With limited understanding of the pandemic's impact on developing minds, we must remain vigilant in anticipating and responding to potential future issues rapidly, decisively, and compassionately. And while the situation may seem daunting, it is crucial to remember that human resilience offers hope in navigating these challenges.

Percentage of children and young people with a probable mental health disorder in England, 2021. (2021 Mental Health of Children and Young People in England Survey)

3. Boys between the age of 6 and 10 are twice as likely to have an identified mental disorder than girls of the same age bracket. However, this pattern reverses over time; for those in the 17 to 23 age bracket, the opposite ratio emerges, with young women facing higher rates of mental health issues.

The complex relationship between gender and mental health is a contentious subject, involving the dissection of the interconnected web of genetics, environment, culture, and psychology. While this is beyond the scope of this report, reviewing the implications of gender in children's mental health provides a valuable framework through which we should address this epidemic.

During the 2000s, there was a notable increase in reported mental health problems among adolescent women, marking one of the initial waves of the publicly acknowledged Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) crises. In contrast, little insight was available into mental health issues in boys during that period. The past decade has witnessed a considerable change in this aspect, as the recent statistics demonstrate.

Simultaneously, it is essential to be aware of these evolving trends without letting them too heavily influence our preconceptions and expectations. The complexity of the topic suggests that variations in children's mental health statistics over time might not necessarily indicate fundamental changes in prevalence but rather shifts in cultural expectations and variations in biological development. Various factors may contribute to the observed gender-related differences in mental health. For instance, societal conditioning might prompt young boys to express psychological concerns in more overt ways, which could rapidly change due to peer pressure and gender expectations during adolescence.

Ultimately, we should treat all children as individuals with developing psyches, recognizing that multiple influences, including gender-related factors, can affect the expression and symptoms of mental health issues. Rather than holding biases, remaining aware of these complexities will aid in understanding and addressing children's mental health challenges more effectively.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles that will delve deeper into each of these topics, exploring global statistics beyond the UK and providing valuable insights for those seeking to contribute positively to the mental health landscape.

Mental health dashboard (2022) NHS England. Children and young people's mental health in 2022: What does the data tell us? (2022) Centre for Mental Health. Grimm, F. et al. Briefing: Improving children and young people's mental health services. Local data insights from England, Scotland and Wales (2022) The Health Foundation.

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