One in six children in England has a probable mental disorder, according to an NHS study.
The Mental Health and Young People Survey highlights how the coronavirus lockdown has made conditions like depression, anxiety and sleeping problems worse among boys and girls.
The study is based on data collected in July from 3,570 children and young people, who took part in a similar survey in 2017.
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It found the rate of probable mental disorders has significantly increased over the last three years.
One in six (16%) children aged five to 16 is now identified as having a probable mental disorder, compared to one in nine (10.8%) in 2017.
The rise affected young boys and girls more or less equally but among older age groups, young women were much more likely to be affected than young men.
Among young women (aged 17 to 22), 27.2% were identified as having a probable mental disorder, compared to 13.3% of young men.
Rates differ between ethnicities, with 18.8% of children of white ethnic backgrounds affected, compared with 7.5% of children of black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.
Approximately two in five of all children and young people felt that lockdown had made their life worse.
Sleep problems affected 28.5% of five to 22-year-olds, with girls (32.4%) more likely to report them than boys (24.7%).
Loneliness was more common in girls (13.8%) than boys (6.5%). Overall, one in 10 children and young people said they often or always felt lonely.
But the study found that children with a probable mental disorder (62.6%) were less likely to receive regular support from their school or college than those without a disorder (76.4%).
When it came to the views of parents, over one third felt their child was worried about missing school (37.7%), but fewer than a quarter felt their child was concerned about catching COVID-19 (22.3%).
About one in six (16.1%) five to 16-year-olds did not physically attend school at all between late March and July 2020, even though their school was open or had reopened for them.
Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, said: “This dramatic increase in the number of children struggling with mental health problems, worsened by the COVID-19 crisis, is extremely alarming.
“It should shock the government into immediate action to tackle a growing epidemic.
“While there have been some welcome improvements in children’s mental health services over recent years, clearly the scale of the problem is getting worse, and what has been promised is just not enough.
“The NHS will have to upscale radically its plans for children’s mental health just to meet its existing commitments.
“Every school needs an NHS funded counsellor as a minimum, and we need a children’s mental health service that is properly funded, with no postcode lottery, so that children receive the support and treatment they need as quickly as possible.”
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive at YoungMinds said: “This alarming research shows the profound effect that COVID-19 has had on children and young people’s mental health.
“This research must lead to decisive action from the government. Schools urgently need additional funding to enable them to commission mental health support, and the NHS and charities must have the resources to provide help to all those who need it.
“With months of uncertainty ahead of us, there is absolutely no room for complacency.”
The Centre for Mental Health charity said earlier this month that up to 10 million people in England could need mental health support because of the pandemic.
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