New research shows a quarter of girls (24%) and one in 10 boys (9%) are depressed at age 14.
At ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14, parents reported on their children’s mental health. Then, when they reached 14, the children were themselves asked questions about their depressive symptoms.
Based on the 14-year-olds reporting of their emotional problems, 24 per cent of girls and 9 per cent of boys suffer from depression.
The research, published with the National Children’s Bureau, also investigated links between depressive symptoms and family income. Generally, 14-year-olds from better-off families were less likely to have high levels of depressive symptoms compared to their peers from poorer homes.
Parents’ reports of emotional problems were roughly the same for boys and girls throughout childhood, increasing from 7 per cent of children at age 7 to 12 per cent at age 11. However, by the time they reached early adolescence at age 14, emotional problems became more prevalent in girls, with 18 per cent having symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared to 12 per cent of boys.
Behaviour problems, such as acting out, fighting and being rebellious decreased from infancy to age 5, but then increased to age 14. Boys were more likely than girls to have behaviour problems throughout childhood and early adolescence.
As 14-year-olds’ own reports of their emotional problems were different to their parents’, this research highlights the importance of considering young people’s views on their own mental health.
The lead author, Dr Praveetha Patalay, said: “In recent years, there has been a growing policy focus on children’s mental health. However, there has been a lack of nationally representative estimates of mental health problems for this generation.
“In other research, we’ve highlighted the increasing mental health difficulties faced by girls today compared to previous generations and this study further highlights the worryingly high rates of depression.”
Professor Emla Fitzsimons, Director of the Millennium Cohort Study, said: “These stark findings provide evidence that mental health problems among girls rise sharply as they enter adolescence; and, while further research using this rich data is needed to understand the causes and consequences of this, this study highlights the extent of mental health problems among young adolescents in the UK today.”
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill-health among children in the UK. With a quarter of 14-year-old girls showing signs of depression, it’s now beyond doubt that this problem is reaching crisis point.
“Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs. Conversely, parents may be picking up on symptoms in their sons, which boys don’t report themselves. It’s vital that both children and their parents can make their voices heard to maximise the chances of early identification and access to specialist support.
“The new research also suggests that signs of depression are generally more common among children from poorer families. We know that mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum and as the government prepares to publish its plans to improve children’s wellbeing, it must address the overlap with other aspects of disadvantage.”
This press release is based on the briefing, ‘Mental ill-health among children of the new century – trends across childhood, with a focus on age 14’ by Dr Praveetha Patalay and Professor Emla Fitzsimons.
Update: the research paper, ‘Development and predictors of mental ill-health and wellbeing from childhood to adolescence’, by Dr Praveetha Patalay and Professor Emla Fitzsimons, was subsequently published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology in September 2018.
For further information please contact:
Ryan Bradshaw – UCL Institute of Education
020 7612 6516
Katherine Butler – UCL Institute of Education
020 7911 5389
Richard Newson – National Children’s Bureau
020 7843 6047
Notes for editors:
1. At ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14 parents reported on their children’s emotional problems, such as feelings of low mood and anxiety, and conduct problems, including behaviour difficulties such as acting out and disobedience.
2. At age 14, young people answered 13 questions that assess the extent (not true, sometimes true, true) of difficulties in the previous two weeks such as feeling miserable, tired, lonely, crying and hating oneself. A score above an established threshold is indicative of suffering from depression.
3. The Millennium Cohort Study is following 19,517 young people born across the UK in 2000-01, building a uniquely detailed portrait of the children of the new century. The last survey of parents and children took place in 2015/16 with analysis of data on mental health being published for the first time today.
4. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and a consortium of government departments, and managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education.
5. The National Children’s Bureau is a leading children’s charity working to build a better childhood for every child. We champion children’s right to be safe, secure and supported, by using evidence and our expert knowledge to influence government policy, and help practitioners to do the best job possible, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people. For more information visit www.ncb.org.uk
6. The UCL Institute of Education is a world-leading centre for research and teaching in education and social science, ranked number one for education worldwide in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 QS World University Rankings. It was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2016. In 2014, the IOE secured ‘outstanding’ grades from Ofsted on every criterion for its initial teacher training, across primary, secondary and further education programmes. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework assessment of university research, the IOE was top for ‘research power’ (GPA multiplied by the size of the entry) in education. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 8,000 students and 800 staff. In December 2014 it became a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education. www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe
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