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Mental health problems in children increasing

Increasing numbers of children from underprivileged backgrounds suffer from mental health problems, yet access to much-needed support services remains poor

The number of children with mental health problems is increasing, with those from underprivileged backgrounds, ethnic minorities and children in care, the most affected.

A report from the British Medical Association (BMA), entitled Child and Adolescent Mental Health - A Guide for Healthcare Professionals, has revealed that mental health disorders in children are rising and poverty and deprivation are major risk factors. It also makes key recommendations about the future of mental health care in children.

One in 10 children between the ages of one and 15 has a mental health problem, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (2005), yet mental health services are failing the most vulnerable, including those who have witnessed domestic violence, says the BMA.

In reality, this suggests that around 1.1 million children under the age of 18 would benefit from specialist services, which would relieve some of the pressure placed on the families of sufferers and their carers.

ìChildren from deprived backgrounds have a poorer start in life on many levels, but without good mental health they may not have a chance to develop emotionally and reach their full potential in life,î said Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of BMA Ethics and Science.

ìDeprivation often goes hand-in-hand with poor diet and unhealthy living. Healthcare professionals are beginning to recognise just how important diet and physical exercise are in preventing mental health problems and it is vital that more research is carried out in this area,î she added.

The report, which covered issues including depression, anxiety, self-harm, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and obsessive disorder, estimates that 1 per cent of children and 3 per cent of adolescents suffer depression in any one year. Self-harm is also on the rise, with 11.2 per cent of girls and 3.2 per cent of boys self-harming each year.

While there are a number of government policies being rolled out aimed at tackling these problems, barriers to getting help still remain. The key obstacle to young people using mental health services is that the services are not tailored to meet their needs, the BMA report states. Young people are more likely to access services that are open after school and not too far from where they live, according to the report which suggests that services need to take into account language and cultural differences.

The BMA has made five recommendations in the report, aimed at improving services hat are currently available:

  • Reforms outlined in the Child Poverty Review should be implemented to end child deprivation and reduce risk factors for mental health problems

  • Children and young people need innovative and flexible health services that suit their ages and lifestyles

  • Current strategies for addressing child and adolescent mental health problems must be fully implemented

  • The media has a role to play in tackling the stigma of mental illness - a study of UK tabloid newspapers found that 40 per cent of daily articles about mental health used derogatory terms, such as 'nutter' or 'loony'

  • The government must address the current shortage of mental healthcare professionals.

30th September 2008

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