One in eight (12.8%) of children and young people aged between five and 19 are living with a mental health disorder, according to a major new report which claims to "provide England’s best source of data on trends in child mental health".

Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017, published today by NHS Digital, collected information from 9,117 children and young people and combines information - depending on their age - from children and young people or their parents and teachers.

For the first time, the survey has covered children aged two to 19, whereas previous surveys have focused only on the five to 15-year-old age group.

Looking at the five to 15-year-old age group over time, the report reveals a slight increase in the overall prevalence of mental disorder. For this age group, this has risen from 9.7% in 1999 and 10.1% in 2004 to 11.2% in 20172. When including five to 19-year-olds, the 2017 prevalence is 12.8%, but this cannot be compared to earlier years.

Disorders were grouped into four broad categories - emotional, behavioural, hyperactivity and other less common disorders 4.

Emotional disorders have become more common in five to 15-year-olds – going from 4.3% in 1999, to 3.9% in 2004 to 5.8% in 2017.

All other types of disorder, have remained similar in prevalence for this age group since 1999.

Different disorders were found to be more or less common at different stages of childhood, with rates of mental disorder higher in older age groups.

Preschool children (two to four-year-olds)

One in eighteen (5.5%) preschool children were identified as having at least one mental disorder at the time they were surveyed.

Behavioural disorders were evident in one in 40 (2.5%) of preschool children, consisting mainly of oppositional defiant disorder (1.9%).

The prevalence of disorders in two to four-year-olds in England has been surveyed for the first time and these figures are acknowledged as "experimental statistics".

Young people (17 to 19-year-olds)

One in six (16.9%) 17 to 19-year-olds were found to have a disorder with one in 16 (6.4%) experiencing more than one mental disorder at the time of the interview. This age group had the highest rate of emotional disorder (14.9%).

Young women (17 to 19-year-olds)

Females aged 17 to 19 were more than twice as likely as males of the same age to have a mental disorder.

Young women in this age group were also identified as having higher rates of emotional disorder and self-harm than other demographic groups - 22.4% had an emotional disorder.

5.6% of young women were identified as having body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an anxiety disorder characterised by the obsessive idea that some aspect of their body or appearance is severely flawed and warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix.

Sexual identity and its association with mental disorder

A third (34.9%) of the young people aged 14 to 19-years-old who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or with another sexual identity had a mental disorder, as opposed to 13.2% of those who identified as heterosexual.

Self-harm and suicide

A quarter (25.5%) of 11 to 16-year-olds with a disorder had self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point, compared to 3.0% of those who were not diagnosed as having a mental disorder.  In 17 to 19-year-olds with a mental disorder, nearly half (46.8%) had self harmed or made a suicide attempt.

The report also looked at other aspects of the lives of the children and young people surveyed, including – for the first time – social media, bullying and cyberbullying.

The survey was carried out for NHS Digital by National Centre Social Research, the Office for National Statistics and YouthinMind.


"Today’s data shows a profoundly concerning rise in the number of children and young people experiencing mental health issues – but this won’t come as a surprise to GPs and our teams, who are the first port of call for many of these young patients when they seek help," Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said.

"One striking and stark trend is the growing number of young women suffering from emotional disorders, such as depression and anxiety. This could be an indication of greater awareness of mental health problems in society, and more people being willing to come forward and seek medical attention for them – but it is also a reflection that it is an incredibly stressful time to be a young person."

"Social media can perpetuate unrealistic expectations for people to live up to, and it can make the pressures of life relentless and inescapable, which can certainly have a negative and serious impact on people's mental health and wellbeing." 

"The College has been calling for better access to specialist mental health services for children and young people in the community for some time. We desperately need more, and more varied, mental health services, close to home where they can be of most benefit for our patients – and GPs need to have better and quicker access to these services for our patients." 

"NHS England's GP Forward View pledged for every GP practice to have access to one of 3,000 new mental health therapists – we need this delivered in full and as a matter of urgency. We also need more time to spend with our patient with complex conditions, which mental health conditions almost always that we can continue to provide the best possible mental health care to our young patients."

Action for Children’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain, said: "Today’s long-awaited figures reveal the true scale of the children’s mental health crisis in this country. Sadly, this stark rise in children and teenagers suffering from a mental disorder makes it clear current government plans are failing to grasp this reality."

"Every day our frontline services see children and teenagers struggling to understand how they fit into the world. They have to contend with things like intense pressure at school, bullying, problems at home, all while navigating a complex 24/7 world with constant stimulation from social media. Today’s figures support this with emotional disorders being the most prevalent type of disorder experienced by over 8% of 5 to 15-year-olds."

"But it doesn’t have to be this way. Whether for toddlers or teenagers, stepping in to help early with preventative services can often stop problems in their tracks – most importantly, reducing anxiety, pain and anguish but also the need for intensive support further down the line."

"It’s good to see the government commit to offering more early help through schools. They now need to go further and accelerate plans with adequate funding and targeted support, to prevent a generation of children from suffering."