One in five children had a probable mental disorder in 2023

One in five children and young people in England aged eight to 25 had a probable mental disorder in 2023, a new survey shows.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 report, published today by NHS England, found that 20.3% of eight to 16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder in 2023. Among 17 to 19-year-olds, the proportion was 23.3%, while in 20 to 25-year-olds it was 21.7%. 

After a rise in rates of probable mental disorders between 2017 and 2020, prevalence continued at similar levels in all age groups between 2022 and 2023.

Participants were also questioned about eating disorders for the first time since the 2017 survey. In 2023, 12.5% of 17 to 19-year-olds had an eating disorder, an increase from 0.8% in 2017. Between 2017 and 2023, rates rose both in young women (from 1.6% to 20.8%) and young men (from 0.0% to 5.1%) in this age group.

This year’s survey also found 5.9% of 20 to 25-year-olds had an eating disorder, while eating disorders were identified in 2.6% of 11 to 16-year-olds, compared with 0.5% in 2017 – with rates in 2023 four times higher in girls (4.3%) than boys (1.0%).

NHS England has rolled out 398 Mental Health Support Teams within schools and colleges to provide early support to young people with mild to moderate mental health issues – covering 35% of pupils and learners in further education.

A further 200 teams are currently in training and due to become operational by Spring 2025, which would ultimately cover five million (over 50%) of the country’s pupils and learners.

NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch said: “Today’s report shows the continued unprecedented pressures faced by young people and reflects the increased demand for NHS children’s mental health services.

“The NHS is providing support for more children and young people than ever before – we have already supported over 700,000 children and young people with their mental health this year and also seen a 47% increase in young people being treated for eating disorders compared to pre-pandemic.

“NHS staff are working harder than ever to meet the increased demand and we have fast-tracked mental health support for millions of pupils in schools and colleges, as well as significantly expanding the children’s mental health workforce. Our partners, especially in the education, voluntary and social care sectors, also have a critical role to play in supporting this effort.

“It is vital that any child or young person struggling, or their family, reaches out for help so they can get the care they need.”

The survey is England’s best data source for trends in children and young people’s mental health and how this has changed since 2017 - covering topics such as bullying, substance use, self-harm and feelings about cost of living, education, climate change and the future.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People 2023 survey, commissioned by NHS England, was carried out earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), University of Cambridge and University of Exeter.