Key statistics about children and young people
According to the Mental Health Foundation, nearly one in 10 children and young people aged five to 16 are affected by a mental health problem.
Despite the knowledge and awareness of mental health being on the rise, alarmingly, 70% of young people who experience a mental health problem do not receive the appropriate support.1 The emotional well-being of children and young people is just as important as their physical health. The early years of adulthood are a crucial time as the mind and body are rapidly developing and children are constantly facing new challenges.
On this page we will explore teenage mental health and the common areas of mental distress for children and young people.
Children are extremely vulnerable to mental disorders. Unlike adults, who have the ability to identify, understand and seek help for a problem, a child may be confused and upset by what they are feeling. Fortunately, there are now many organisations working to spread awareness and end the stigma of mental distress. These organisations are a place for young people to receive the support they need to progress into young adults.
1 in 10 children and young people are affected by a mental health problem.
While many children will grow up mentally healthy, the Mental Health Foundation report that the number of those experiencing problems has risen compared to 30 years ago. Many factors will contribute to how the mind develops and how well a child will be able to cope with the changes happening to their body.
Some of the most common mental health problems affecting children and young people include:
- generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- eating disorders.2
In the 2014/15 Child Line review, the results for the top 10 reasons why young people contact Child Line show their main areas of concern. The top concern for young people was family relationships, including conflict in the family and parents’ divorce or separation. Over 12 months, there were over 38,000 counselling sessions for this concern.
Following family relationships, other concerns for children and young people included:
Number of counselling sessions
Low self-esteem, feeling sad, low or lonely.
Abuse, including sexual, online, physical, emotional and neglect.
Bullying, face-to-face or online.
There are some risk factors that can make some children more likely to experience problems than others. While most things that happen in a young person’s life will not lead to mental health problems, certain traumatic events can trigger problems for children who are already considered vulnerable. Some of the risk factors include:
- Having a long-term physical illness.
- Having a parent who has problems with alcohol or drugs.
- Having a parent who has had mental health problems.
- Experiencing the death of a loved one.
- Having parents who are separated.
- Being severely bullied or abused.
- Living in poverty.
- Experiencing discrimination.
- Living in care.
- Taking on adult responsibilities at a young age.
The Young Minds charity reported that in 2008, 72% of children living in care were experiencing behavioural or emotional problems. These children were regarded as some of the most vulnerable people in UK society.
Common areas of mental distress
Anxiety and anxiety-related problems
Anxiety problems are incredibly common. It is thought that as many as one in six young people will experience an anxiety-related problem.3 Children and young people suffering from anxiety may experience it in three forms:
- Affecting one in 25 people in the UK, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause young people to feel extremely worried. Young children starting a new school may suffer separation anxiety.4
- Panic attacks are unpredictable attacks of extreme anxiety, usually lasting around 10 minutes. The sufferer may find it difficult to breathe and feel out of control. The feelings of panic will gradually start to ease but the person can be left quite shaken and uneasy.
- Those who live with a phobia tend to feel nervous about one thing in particular. While to some people it may not be dangerous or threatening, to the person with the phobia, it can be quite detrimental to everyday life. For example, agoraphobia, the fear of being in situations where escape may be difficult.
Children with ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate, have a lot of energy and say things without thinking. ADHD in children is thought to start at around 18 months old, however symptoms often only become apparent between ages three and seven. ADHD is more common in boys than in girls, affecting one to two children in every 100. It is the most common behavioural disorder in children.5
According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists, the two most common eating problems are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Eating disorders commonly start during the teenage years, though they can occur at any time. It is believed that eating problems are seven to 10 times more common in girls than boys.
Binge eating disorder (sometimes described as compulsive eating), is when an individual feels they cannot stop themselves from eating, even if they want to. It is common for the sufferer to rely on food for emotional support or to mask difficult feelings.
There is no single cause to an eating disorder, but it is estimated that almost 1.6 million people in the UK are affected.6
Depression is a common mental disorder that affects nearly 80,000 children and young people. Many people think depression is only prevalent in adults, but in fact 2% of children under 12 years old will experience depression.7
Most young people will occasionally feel upset or low, but some can feel sad, lonely, anxious or stressed for longer periods of time. It is when people feel this way for a long time that it starts to affect their daily life.
It can be difficult to understand why people self-harm, but it is more common than people think. The Mental Health Foundation reported that between one in 12 and one in 15 people self-harm. Some research suggests that the UK has the highest rate of self-harm in Europe.
However, many young people who self-harm will not harm themselves in a way that requires medical attention, so the numbers only show part of the picture. The stigma of teenage mental health needs to be removed so that young people can get the help they need.
While everyone has times when they feel down and can’t see a way out, young people can be particularly vulnerable to suicidal feelings. Thoughts of the future, school pressures, relationships and sexuality can sometimes become overwhelming.
Young people feeling this way may believe that nobody can help them or that they have no one to talk to. It is these feelings that can lead a person to believe that the only way out is to end their life.
According to a 2011 report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), almost 200 15-19 year olds and over 400 20-24 year olds committed suicide. Despite this alarming figure, not all of those experiencing suicidal feelings go on to take their life. It is important to let young people know that support is available and they are not alone.
Child abuse is any action that causes significant harm to a child. It can be physical, emotional or sexual but can also be a lack of love, care and attention. Neglect can be just as damaging to a child as physical abuse. The NSPCC estimate that more than half a million children in the UK are abused each year.
They report that in 2014 – 2015, there were over 29,000 counselling sessions with young people contacting Child Line about abuse. The main concerns of these calls were sexual and physical abuse.
It is positive to see more young people finding the courage to contact support services. In 2014, the charity reported seeing an 8% rise in young people calling about sexual abuse. Despite this, 15% of callers said the abuse had been happening for a long time and 30% said the abuse happened in the past.
Many young people described feelings of shame and confusion and often believed they were to blame. In 33% of counselling sessions, young people would explain how they had never told anybody about the abuse. But when reassured that they were not responsible, many felt a "huge sense of relief".8
How can counselling help?
The stigma and judgements associated with teenage mental health can make it tough for children and young people to find the courage to seek help. While they may not be in the position to talk to a friend, family member or teacher, it is important to spread awareness of the help available.
Children and young people may benefit from professional support. There are various treatments that can help young people understand and cope with what they are going through, including talking and creative therapies.
Counselling provides the young person with the opportunity to explore their feelings. Here they can open up about their problems without shame or discrimination. The counsellor is someone to listen and offer support to the child, who may otherwise feel alone.
Common forms of therapy often recommended include:
- 1 Mental Health Foundation: Children and Young People. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/c/children-and-young-people
- 2 Young Minds: Mental Health Statistics. http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics
- 3, 4 Young Minds: Anxiety. http://www.youngminds.org.uk/for_children_young_people/whats_worrying_you/anxiety/what_is_anxiety
- 5 Young Minds: ADHD. http://www.youngminds.org.uk/for_children_young_people/whats_worrying_you/adhd/what_is_adhd
- 6 Mind: Types of Eating Disorders. http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/eating-problems/types-of-eating-disorders/?o=6260#bingeeatingdisorder
- 7 Young Minds: Depression. http://www.youngminds.org.uk/for_children_young_people/whats_worrying_you/depression/what_is_depression
Page last reviewed: 19/02/16
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