Children from poorer backgrounds more likely to have mental health problems

18 November 2015

“Children of the New Century: Mental health findings from the Millennium Cohort Study” a study from the UCL Institute of Education and the Centre for Mental Health has found that children whose parents are from less well off backgrounds are more likely to have mental health problems.

The Millennium Cohort Study is a longitudinal study following the mental health of a wide range of children from across the UK who were born at the start of the 21st century, and is using a questionnaire based on reports from both parents and teachers to measure this. Symptoms identified include conduct problems, hyperactivity and inattention, emotional problems and peer problems.

This latest survey, which has previously measured the incidence of mental health problems at ages three, five, seven and eleven, found that ten per cent of eleven year olds in the UK have a mental health problem according to parents, or eight per cent according to teachers.

The report also found that the incidence of mental health problems was unevenlyspread across different socio-economic and demographic backgrounds, withchildren from families in the lowest income cohort four times more likely to have mental health problems than children from the highest earning families (seventeen per cent of eleven year olds from the bottom twenty per cent of income distribution had mental health problems, compared to four per cent of the top twenty per cent). The findings also suggest that children who are not living with both natural parents are more likely to have mental health problems whilst boys are twice as likely to have a mental health problem identified than girls.

The figures found are similar to those of previous surveys, with suggestions that they imply the incidence of mental health problems among children has fallen slightly in recent years. However, the report authors are keen to stress that these levels are still far higher than the level that support services are able to effectively deal with, whilst the rising prevalence of income-related problems identifies a worrying trend.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Prof Sean Duggan said:

“Mental health problems affect one in five children at some point between the ages of 3 and 11 and they cast a long shadow over a child’s life chances. Early starting behavioural problems are associated with especially high levels of disadvantage. Today’s findings point to the urgent need to support children’s mental health early in life and to the vital role of primary schools in promoting good mental health and responding to children and parents who need help.”

“As well as the wasted potential and anguish for the individual child and family, mental health problems in children and young people result in an increased cost to the public purse and wider society throughout their lives. Taxpayers spend almost £17 billion a year on dealing with the immediate consequences of social problems affecting children and young people.”