Survey of Children's and Young People's Mental Health

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A landmark survey has delivered reliable prevalence estimates of the rates of mental health problems in children and young people in Northern Ireland. The survey team included School of SSESW colleagues Lisa Bunting, Claire McCartan, Gavin Davidson and Dirk Schubotz. Lisa said: ‘Queen’s University, Ulster University and the Mental Health Foundation had the amazing opportunity to work with the Health and Social Care Board to fill a major gap in the evidence base which underpins the provision of mental health services for children and young people. For the first time ever, the Youth Wellbeing Survey provides reliable data on the mental health problems children and young people in Northern Ireland experience, as well as a range of factors which increase the likelihood that these problems will develop. We look forward to continuing to work with the Board and other stakeholders in the future to make sure that the survey findings contribute to meaningful change and improvements in how we meet the needs of vulnerable young people in emotional distress.’

The study collected data from more than 3,000 children and young people in Northern Ireland, and on more than 2,800 parents and caregivers. It showed that 12.6 per cent of children and young people in Northern Ireland experience common mood disorders such as anxiety and depression - around 25 per cent higher than in other UK nations, reflecting a similar trend in NI adults. A wide range of child, family and socioeconomic factors are known to be associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety. The survey showed that exposure to family trauma and adversity, poor child health and disability, having special educational needs, living in a household in receipt of social security benefits and parental mental health, were the strongest predictors for having a common mood or anxiety disorder.

However, in general, rates across a range of mental health problems in Northern Ireland, are broadly in line with international studies. There are also positive findings with levels of prosocial behaviour – such as being considerate, helping and sharing, and having good relationships with peers, emerging as considerably higher here than in other UK nations.  

Child age was also a strong predictor of increased mental health problems with older children, in particular older teenage girls having the highest rates of anxiety and depression. However, rates were also particularly high for young boys aged 5-10 years old, highlighting this as area for further study and service development.

Previous studies also show that half of adult mental disorders develop before the age of 18 so it is vitally important to ensure the right services are in place to address and stem emerging mental health needs in young people. The influence of social media, the internet and cyber bullying was also examined as part of this survey, indicating that 4.7 per cent of 11-19 year olds in Northern Ireland met the criteria for problematic social media use with incidences higher among girls and teenagers.

Read more in the full Youth Wellbeing Prevalence Survey or the young person's version.