Child of the New Century has been vital in making the case for better mental health services for children and young people, by providing much-needed evidence on the number of young people affected and raising awareness of it at a national level.
Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, home to Child of the New Century, studied the information that you and your parents shared about your emotions and behaviour when we surveyed you at age 14.
The researchers found that a quarter of girls (24%) and one in 10 boys (9%) reported high symptoms of depression. They also found that your parents’ reports of your mental health often differed to yours, highlighting the importance of having open conversations with other people about your feelings.
These findings were incredibly important because they highlighted for the first time the extent of mental ill-health among people of your generation, at a UK level. As 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 estimates of mental health problems across the UK for this generation.”
In a follow up study, the researchers looked into the factors linked to poor mental health to find out who, among your cohort, were most likely to display symptoms.
They found that among teenage girls, those from less well-off families were more likely to experience mental ill-health than those who were better-off. Other factors, such as being overweight, not getting along with peers and being bullied, were also associated with high depressive symptoms at age 14.
In this study, the researchers also highlighted the distinction between mental ill-health and poor wellbeing. They measured mental wellbeing by asking you about your level of happiness with different aspects of your lives (school, family, friends, school work, appearance, life as a whole) while mental ill-health and depressive symptoms were assessed with short clinical questionnaires.
They found that mental ill-health and poor wellbeing do not always go hand in hand. A large proportion of your generation experienced low wellbeing at age 14 despite not having high depressive symptoms, and a very small proportion of individuals, mainly boys, experienced good wellbeing alongside mental ill-health.
We publicised the findings from these two studies widely, making national news headlines and helping to bring attention to this important public health issue. As Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, stated to The Guardian in response to our research: “After decades in the shadows, children’s mental health is finally in the spotlight”.
By presenting their findings directly to government policymakers, the researchers influenced debate on how best to invest in and protect young people’s mental health and wellbeing. As a result, your contribution to Child of the New Century has had a very real impact on the provision of mental health services for young people, which we hope will benefit not only your generation but future generations too.
Professor Emla Fitzsimons, Director of Child of the New Century and co-author of the research said that ‘This research has exceptionally wide reach, with the ultimate beneficiaries being young people and their families right across the UK, through the impacts it has on the work of policymakers’.
The charity Young Minds offers free, confidential support to young people, including a text messaging service. They also have a parent’s helpline providing information and advice to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a child or young person up to the age of 25 – call for free on 0808 8025544.
Mental ill-health among children of the new century: trends across childhood with a focus on age 14 (2017) by Praveetha Patalay and Emla Fitzsimons
Mental ill-health and wellbeing at age 14: Initial findings from the Millennium Cohort Study Age 14 Survey (2018) by Praveetha Patalay and Emla Fitzsimons
Children’s mental wellbeing and ill-health: not two sides of the same coin (2016) by Praveetha Patalay