Today’s children are more likely to be depressed than previous generations. The chance of depression is far higher for girls than boys, and for those in a lower socio-economic background compared to more affluent children.
By the age of 14, a quarter of girls and almost 1 in 10 boys are exhibiting signs of depression, according to new government-funded research conducted by University College London and the University of Liverpool.
Marc Bush, chief policy adviser at Young Minds mental health charity, said: ‘We know that teenage girls face a huge range of pressures, including stress at school, body image issues, bullying, and the pressure created by social media.’
The research was based on the feelings of more than 19,000 young people of that age over the span of 14 years. By the age of 14, 24% of girls and 9% of boys expressed feelings of misery, tiredness and loneliness and hating themselves, although this was not a formal diagnosis.
Extrapolating this across the UK means that roughly 166,000 girls and 67,000 boys are experiencing signs of depression before the age of 14.
The lead author of the report, Dr Praveetha Patalay, said the findings showed ‘worryingly high rates of depression’ among 14-year-old girls and demonstrated the ‘increasing mental health difficulties faced by girls today compared to previous generations’.
The study revealed that 14-year-olds from poorer backgrounds are more likely to experience depression than their more affluent peers and also suggested that ethnicity may be a factor in depression rates.
It showed that, among girls, those from multi-ethnic (28%) and white (25%) backgrounds were most likely to be depressed, compared to girls from black African (9%) and Bangladeshi (15%) families. For boys, those of mixed ethnicity were most likely to experience depression, while Bangladeshi and Indian boys were the least likely.
Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, Anna Feuchtwang said: ‘With a quarter of 14-year-old girls showing signs of depression, it’s not beyond doubt that this problem is reaching crisis point.’
Increasing academic pressure on children has been cited as one possible cause of poorer mental health. ‘We need to rebalance our education system, so that schools are able to prioritise wellbeing and not just exam results,’ said Marc Bush.
Janet Davies, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, argued that a decline in the number of school nurses was making the education system increasingly ill-equipped to deal with such pressure. And that ‘demand for adolescent mental health services is reaching new heights but the NHS is failing young people.’
The government has made young people’s mental health a top priority and a government green paper is expected soon. NHS England has said that mental health services for the young ‘are expanding at their fastest rate in a decade’ and that ‘this year the NHS will treat an additional 30,000 children and young people, supported by an additional £280m of funding.’