Factors impacting the mental health of children include cyber-bullying through social media, exam pressure and an increase in family breakdowns.
The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has advised schools and doctors to pay closer attention to the signs and symptoms of developing mental health problems such as depression. They say more information should be available to help vulnerable people – especially very young children who may find it more difficult to come to terms with their feelings.
According to official figures, 80,000 children in the UK suffer from severe depression, some of whom are below the age of 10.
In fact, NICE says children as young as five are suffering from mental health conditions, and that more needs to be done to pinpoint these cases.
According to the experts who drew up the NICE guidance, there has been a steep rise in the number of primary school children struggling with depression.
Dr Gemma Trainor, a Nurse Consultant at Greater Manchester West Foundation Mental Health Trust, and member of the specialist committee which developed the guidance said: “I have over 30 years of direct clinical experience of children and young people presenting with symptoms of depression. In that time, there have been many changes and trends; over the past ten years, the increase of primary school-age children presenting with depression is a particularly worrying phenomena.”
Lucie Russell, director of campaigns for charity Young Minds, believes modern life is putting serious stress on young people, with social media being a critical factor. While children used to face bullying in schools, now that abuse can follow them right into their homes they are left with no escape route.
With young people constantly publishing personal details and photographs of themselves, there are mounting pressures on young girls especially to look a certain way, which fosters low self-esteem and even eating disorders.
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb has said the government will put £54 million into developing counselling programmes for children and young people.