Nearly two fifths of 17-18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas have struggled to receive the mental health support they need in the past year, compared to around a quarter of those from the most affluent areas (39% v 28%), according to new COSMO study research.
Led jointly by the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), CLS and the Sutton Trust, the COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) study is tracking the lives of more than 11,000 young people in England who took A-level exams and other qualifications this summer.
Overall, a quarter of young people have sought some form of mental health support over the previous 12 months, which many are struggling to access.
Of those who sought help, 35% said they were either on a waiting list or had otherwise yet to receive it.
“The scale of the crisis in young people’s mental health is already well known. But these new findings from COSMO show that we are simply not doing enough to tackle it.”
Dr Jake Anders, COSMO Principal Investigator
The disparities in access to specialist mental health support services, such as NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), were even more stark. Young people living in the poorest areas were more than twice as likely to have not received support as pupils from the most affluent areas (39% v 18%).
Dr Jake Anders, COSMO’s Principal Investigator, said: “The scale of the crisis in young people’s mental health is already well known. But these new findings from COSMO show that we are simply not doing enough to tackle it. It is vital that we properly resource mental health services across the country. There is no quick, cheap fix to achieving that.
“We must also ensure that these services are targeted to where there is the most need. If more young people living in worse-off areas are not receiving the support that they need, this will widen existing gaps in life chances.”
The study shows that 44% of Year 13s could be classified as experiencing high psychological distress between November 2022 and April 2023.
This is the same proportion that reported these symptoms when the study last followed up with them in October 2021 to April 2022, and considerably higher than rates reported by earlier-born generations at around the same age: 35% of those taking part in the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England 2 in 2017 and 23% of those participating in CLS’s Next Steps study in 2007.
The research also finds that over a quarter (28%) of students in school or college said their mental health support was not good enough. State school students were twice as likely as private school pupils to say that their school’s mental health support was not good enough (32% compared to 16%).
Furthermore, the study finds that non-binary+ young people (67%) and girls (33%) were more likely to report seeking support with their mental health than boys (15%).
It finds further evidence that bullying and harassment specifically related to an individual’s identity are more common for those from marginalised groups.
Young people from an ethnic minority background were at greater risk of bullying and harassment compared to their White counterparts (15% of Black participants have been harassed regarding their skin colour or ethnicity).
However, White (40%) respondents and those of mixed/other ethnicities (39%) classified as experiencing high psychological distress were much more likely to report seeking mental health support compared to Asian (25%) and Black (30%) respondents.
LGB young people were more likely to report having at least one form of harassment (57% of gay/lesbian, 48% of bisexuals, and 55% of those with other sexualities) compared to 23% of heterosexuals. In addition, teenagers outside the gender binary were more likely to be targeted than their male and female peers (44% non-binary+ students have been harassed about their sex, gender or gender identity).
The report’s authors are calling for sustainable and well-funded support for young people experiencing mental health issues, with a focus on improving services in the most deprived areas.
They also call on schools to develop more tailored support for non-binary+ and LGBTQ+ students with input from professionals who have been trained to understand the needs of these young people.
“It’s particularly troubling that young people from the poorest parts of England and those from working class backgrounds are struggling the most to access mental health support.”
Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation
Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “This research underscores the severity of the mental health crisis facing youngsters, who have endured significant disruption to their education and social lives since the pandemic.
“It’s particularly troubling that young people from the poorest parts of England and those from working class backgrounds are struggling the most to access mental health support. There can be no doubt that this is likely to harm their future life chances if it is not addressed.
“The Sutton Trust would like to see sustainable and well-funded support for young people experiencing mental health issues, including preventative and early intervention services. Further support should be targeted at the most deprived areas, to provide better access to mental health support.”
Find out more in the COSMO Wave 2 Initial Findings – Briefing No. 1 Mental and physical health.