One in nine children has a form of disability after post-pandemic surge in poor mental health

By Kate Norris,
updated on Jan 31, 2024

One in nine children has a form of disability after post-pandemic surge in poor mental health

New research reveals one in nine children in the UK has some form of disability as a result of a post-pandemic increase in mental health and behavioural conditions such as ADHD

According to new research, one in nine children in the UK has a form of disability as a result of a post-pandemic increase in mental health problems and conditions such as ADHD and autism. Official figures show the number of under-16s with a recorded disability has increased by more than a third in the two years since the pandemic.

Experts believe the growth has been driven by an increase in mental health and behavioural conditions in young people as well as an increased awareness and willingness to diagnose such conditions.

Sam Ray-Chaudhuri of the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes lockdown measures are likely to have exacerbated the previous trend of declining mental health among children. He told The Times, “For young people, Covid had the most impact on mental health – lockdown, disruption to schools, there has been a big rise in absenteeism, so it seems plausible there could be a decline in mental health over that period.”

Tamsin Ford, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, notes doctors and parents have become better at recognising conditions such as autism and ADHD in addition to there being a rise in cases. She also notes the cost of living crisis and difficulty accessing services were part of the problem.

“We have evidence-based treatments, there are things we can do. If children have to wait for years to access treatments, they are paying a developmental price. If you are waiting from 16-18, that’s your A-levels.”

Tamsin acknowledged that some parents were accessing private clinics to gain diagnoses of conditions such as ADHD and autism but said, “On the whole, people really struggle with access. Only a third to a half of people get anywhere near NHS services for mental health and often have to wait for years.”

How can you support your child’s mental health?

If you’re concerned about a young person’s mental health and wellbeing, it's important to encourage them to talk about how they're feeling and reassure them that it's OK to seek help. If you're unsure where to start, you can always reach out to your GP or local authority for guidance on accessing appropriate services. You can find out more information on how to talk to kids about mental health in our article.

Here are some organisations with support options:

  • Young Minds is a young people's mental health charity providing practical and confidential guidance free of charge.
  • Action for Children offers numerous tips to help you spot signs of mental health issues in young people with action on how you can help.
  • CYPMHS (Children and Young People's Mental Health Service) provides emotional wellbeing, mental health advice and support for young people and parents/carers.
  • Place2Be is a children and young people’s mental health charity that provides support, counselling, and training in UK schools.
  • If you are in a position to explore private therapy to access support quicker, you can learn more about counselling for children and young people on Counselling Directory.

For more information and support, visit our Happiful Kids section. Here, you’ll find activities, news, and practical advice to support mental and emotional health for children and parents/carers.

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