Mental health survey reveals pressure on young

Hugh Pym
Health editor
@bbcHughPymon Twitter

image copyrightMeliaMuse

It is a comprehensive and authoritative snapshot of the state of mental health in England, and its value lies in the highlighting of trends and comparisons with previous years.

Based on surveys carried out every seven years, the NHS Digital analysis underlines the challenges for policymakers and a cash-strapped health service.

On the more positive side, there has not been a dramatic rise in the proportion of those surveyed with common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

But there has been an increase among adults, from 16.3% in 2000 to 17.5% in 2014, with a faster rise among women than men.

The proportion of those with mental health disorders who are receiving treatment has increased from 24% in 2007 to 37% in 2014.

But the area of concern highlighted by statisticians is women aged between 16 and 24, which they deem to be a high-risk group.

The proportion of this group experiencing mental health symptoms, more than a quarter, is now higher than for any other age group.

And there is an increasing gender gap.

While there has been a sharp increase between 2007 and 2014 in the proportion of 16- to 24-year-old women reporting mental health symptoms, the equivalent percentage of young men has fallen over the same period and is now almost two-thirds lower than for young women.

And young women are now more than twice as likely as young men to have self-harmed.

image copyrightIngram Publishing

Common mental health disorders:

  • depression
  • generalised anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • social anxiety disorder

The report is compiled by statisticians, who are loathe to ascribe causes to the trends they have identified.

The NHS Digital team, however, do talk of the context.

They note that since 2007 there has been a recession and changes in digital technology.

They point out that the current 16- to 24-year-old cohort is the first to have grown up in the social-media era and say this is worthy of further investigation.

Psychiatrists and mental health campaigners are increasingly raising questions about whether social media increases peer-group pressure and online bullying.

The report comes at a time when the provision of mental health services for young people in England has risen up the political agenda.

A £250m annual funding increase for children and adolescent mental health services was announced before the election, but in the 2015-16 financial year this did not materialise in full.

There is a suspicion that local commissioners will divert this money into propping up overstretched hospitals and accident and emergency units.

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, says this government has introduced mental health waiting times and is backing an NHS plan to revolutionise mental health care.

A major new mental health policy statement, covering areas such as improving services for self-harm, is due soon.

What most experts agree on is that although progress has been made, the ultimate goal of full parity of esteem between mental and physical health has not yet been achieved.