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Mental health problems in young people, aged 11 to 14: Results from the first HeadStart annual survey of 30,000 children

Child mental health: what we know from the literature

That 1 in 10 children experiences mental health problems is a well-cited statistic, and forms the basis for the estimation that around 800,000 children and young people in Britain suffer from mental health problems at any one time.i This estimate is drawn from the 2004 ONS Survey of the Mental Health of Children and Young People. While the next prevalence study is imminent, this 13-year lag has left a gap in the current understanding about the level of need in the population.

There have been some indications in recent years that mental health problems may be increasing, particularly in the case of adolescent girls. For instance, a recent report based on the latest survey data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which used a measure consistent with the one used in the current study, indicated that as many as 1 in 4 adolescent girls reports high levels of depressive symptoms, with rates in boys being closer to 1 in 10.

Alongside gender differences, a number of factors are often associated with higher risk for mental health problems. These include deprivation,v learning difficultiesvi and chaotic or disrupted family life.

However, the role of other factors is less well understood. For example, understanding of the association between ethnicity and prevalence of mental health problems is limited, largely due to the small proportions of some ethnic groupings in previous studies. Other groups, such as ‘looked after children’, are often under-researched for similar reasons.

This briefing report draws on the strengths of the large-scale baseline data collection from the HeadStart Learning Programme in order to explore prevalence of mental health problems in participating school cohorts. It also considers the odds of experiencing a mental health problem for a range of subgroups within this population.