Picture by Andrew Neel

One in five children and young people in England aged eight to 25 had a probable mental disorder in 2023, a new survey shows.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 report, published today (November 21) by NHS England, found that 20.3 percent of eight to 16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder in 2023. Among 17 to 19-year-olds, the proportion was 23.3 percent, while in 20 to 25-year-olds it was 21.7 percent.

After a rise in rates of probable mental disorders between 2017 and 2020, prevalence continued at similar levels in all age groups between 2022 and 2023.

Participants were also questioned about eating disorders for the first time since the 2017 survey. In 2023, 12.5 percent of 17 to 19-year-olds had an eating disorder, an increase from 0.8 percent in 2017. Between 2017 and 2023, rates rose both in young women (from 1.6 percent to 20.8 percent) and young men (from 0.0 percent to 5.1 percent) in this age group.

This year’s survey also found 5.9 percent of 20 to 25-year-olds had an eating disorder, while eating disorders were identified in 2.6 percent of 11 to 16-year-olds, compared with 0.5 percent in 2017 – with rates in 2023 four times higher in girls (4.3 percent) than boys (1.0 percent).

Dr Tamsin Newlove-Delgado of the University of Exeter was an academic consultant on the survey and said: “As a society we should be concerned about these findings. Although the rates of mental health problems in children and young people in our study have remained stable in all groups over the past year, those rates are still worryingly high.

“This is also the first study in our series since it started in 2017 to report on rates of eating disorders – by which we mean clinically impairing eating disorders that meet international diagnostic criteria, such as anorexia and bulimia. The study estimated that eating disorders affect about one in eight young people aged 17 to 19 and are about four times more common in girls and young women, but also occurred in a significant proportion of young men. This is an important reminder that anyone can be affected by an eating disorder.

“We also continue to see the highest rates of problems in young women, who are also less likely to feel optimistic than young men about topics including health, money, and the environment.

“Early adulthood is often a time of important new beginnings for young people and it’s crucial we invest in enabling them to make the best start in their adult lives. That includes equipping them with the skills and resources they need to deal with the challenges they face, but also ensuring that they can access support and treatment for their mental health quickly and effectively if they need it.”

NHS England has rolled out 398 Mental Health Support Teams within schools and colleges to provide early support to young people with mild to moderate mental health issues – covering 35 percent of pupils and learners in further education.

A further 200 teams are currently in training and due to become operational by Spring 2025, which would ultimately cover five million (over 50 percent) of the country’s pupils and learners.

NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch said: “Today’s report shows the continued unprecedented pressures faced by young people and reflects the increased demand for NHS children’s mental health services.

“The NHS is providing support for more children and young people than ever before – we have already supported over 700,000 children and young people with their mental health this year and also seen a 47 percent increase in young people being treated for eating disorders compared to pre-pandemic.

“NHS staff are working harder than ever to meet the increased demand and we have fast-tracked mental health support for millions of pupils in schools and colleges, as well as significantly expanding the children’s mental health workforce. Our partners, especially in the education, voluntary and social care sectors, also have a critical role to play in supporting this effort.

“It is vital that any child or young person struggling, or their family, reaches out for help so they can get the care they need.”

The survey is England’s best data source for trends in children and young people’s mental health and how this has changed since 2017 – covering topics such as bullying, substance use, self-harm and feelings about cost of living, education, climate change and the future.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People 2023 survey, commissioned by NHS England, was carried out earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), University of Cambridge, and University of Exeter.

Read the full report – Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2023 – wave 4 follow up to the 2017 survey