children counsellingStrong associations exist between mental illness in young people, ‘everyday’ social problems and disadvantage, new research has suggested.

The findings came at the same time as Young Minds' Sarah Brennan, the Institution of Child Health's Dr Eileen Vizard and Professor Stephen Scott CBE all suggested that more can be done to provide early intervention into children's potential mental health issues at the NSPCC How Safe? conference.

Youth advice and counselling charity Youth Access followed this by calling for NHS investment in voluntary sector advice services to address the ‘social determinants’ of young people’s mental health.

The research, led by legal academics at University College London, has identified the key role played by social disadvantage and social problems in rates of mental illness among young people.

Commenting on the research, Russell Viner, Professor in Adolescent Health, Institute of Child Health, University College London, said: "This important work highlights the particular vulnerability of young people to the vicious cycle of disadvantage and poor mental health. Coordinated action is needed across government and the health and education services to both prevent young people falling into the NEET [not in education, employment or training] trap and identify early those young people at risk of mental health problems."

The research also revealed data on the prevalence of mental health problems among young people including:
- 12% of 16-19 year olds and 18% of 20-24 year olds met cut-off points for common mental disorders
- Young people who were NEET or socially isolated were found to be twice as likely as other young people to report mental illness
- Where young people also experienced ‘everyday’ social welfare legal problems (e.g. concerning debt, benefits, housing or employment) they were five times more likely to report mental health problems
- Social welfare legal problems were a clear predictor of mental health problems and longitudinal data showed that young people’s mental health deteriorated as new social welfare legal problems emerged.

Youth Access, which commissioned the research, believes the findings have major implications for the way youth mental health services are configured. With the annual cost of mental health problems in England estimated at £105 billion and three-quarters of lifetime mental illness having its roots in adolescence or early adulthood, huge savings could potentially be made in the NHS budget by intervening more smartly.

Barbara Rayment, director of Youth Access, said: "This study establishes for the first time that housing, money and employment problems are key determinants of young people’s mental health.

"The recent report of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Taskforce [Future in Mind], identified the importance of increasing investment in community-based drop-in services that can provide advice on social issues alongside therapeutic interventions in accessible young person-friendly settings for the 13-25 age group.

"We have a collective duty to ensure vulnerable young people get the services they need in the most efficient way for the taxpayer. It is critical that clinical commissioning groups, which are tasked with leading CAMHS Transformation Plans in local areas, look beyond traditional clinical solutions and invest in services that can offer a truly holistic, early intervention response."

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