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Girls at high risk of emotional problems new research reveals

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Area:
UK-wide
Programme:
Headstart
Release date:
11 1 2018

New research released today (Thursday 11 January) at a young people’s mental health conference shows that girls are more than twice as likely to experience emotional difficulties as boys, while boys are significantly more likely to experience behavioural problems.

These are the first findings from a pioneering survey of over 30,000 young people (aged 11 to 14) collected as part the National Lottery funded HeadStart programme by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and UCL’s Evidence Based Practice Unit.

The findings from the survey reveal that:

  • Around one in five children and young people said they experienced emotional problems, and the same was true for behavioural problems.
  • Young people in Year 9 are more likely to report mental health problems than young people in year 7.
  • Girls are more than twice as likely to say they had experienced emotional problems (with 25% of girls saying they had a problem compared to 11% of boys) but in contrast, boys are one-and-a-half times more likely to say they have experienced behavioural problems (with 23% of boys saying they had experienced them compared with 15% of girls).
  • Young people from Asian, Black, Mixed and other ethnic groups were significantly less likely to indicate they were experiencing emotional problems than young people in the White ethnic group.
  • Young people with special educational needs, those eligible for free school meals and those classified as children in need were also more likely to say they were experiencing both emotional and behavioural problems.

The survey – one of the largest of children and young people’s wellbeing ever carried out in England - concludes that there is a consistent association between deprivation and mental health problems.

HeadStart is a five-year, £56 million National Lottery funded programme set-up by the Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Six HeadStart partnerships are working in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people (aged 10-16) by exploring and testing ways to build their resilience from an early age.

In total 30,843 young people in years 7 (11-12) and 9 (13-14) in 114 participating Headstart Schools completed the Wellbeing Measurement Framework, an online questionnaire developed by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and UCL with the six HeadStart partnerships and the Big Lottery Fund.

The Year 7s will repeat the survey annually until they are in Year 11 and data will be collected from young people in Year 9 every year. This is one of the largest surveys of children and young people’s mental wellbeing in England.

The research is being led by Dr Jess Deighton, Deputy Director of the Evidence Based Practice Unit at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and UCL, and Associate Professor in Child Mental Health and Well-being at UCL.

She said: “There is so much rich data in this survey which can help us understand and respond to the mental health needs of children and young people. What is particularly exciting about this research is that we have the opportunity to follow up with these young people for a long period of time to see how their mental health and well-being changes throughout this programme.”

“The most powerful findings from this research are that mental health problems amongst children and young people now appear to be at a worrying rate and that there is a strong and consistent association between deprivation and mental health problems.”

Emma Ackerman, Head of Funding for HeadStart at the Big Lottery Fund said: “HeadStart aims to improve our understanding of how communities can work together with young people to give them the tools they need to lead fulfilling lives. The programme was developed with young people, and they continue to be at the centre of the six partnerships. Using their insight and experience, they are taking the lead in shaping support locally which benefits them and their peers.

“Existing evidence shows that by 14 a significant number of young people report depressive symptoms, and the results released today show just how important it is to take action early. Over the coming years we look forward to seeing the difference HeadStart has the potential to make.”

For interviews and further information on the research please contact:

Tim Linehan tim.linehan@annafreud.org 07776760881
Niall McGourty niall.mcgourty@annafreud.org 07540100933

For interviews and further information on Headstart and the Big Lottery Fund please contact: Esther Rush Esther.Rush@biglotteryfund.org.uk 0207 211 1785

Notes to editors

  • HeadStart schools are located in less socially and economically advantaged areas than is the national average, and differ from national figures in terms of proportions with special educational needs and proportions of white British pupils. All results must be understood in this context.
  • The Wellbeing Measurement Framework includes questions from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire which can be used to identify emotional symptoms and behaviour problems. Emotional difficulties include things like the extent to which young people feel worried or anxious, or the intensity of low moods. Behavioural difficulties relate to the extent to which young people feel aggressive or act out.
  • Today’s research was launched at the Improving young people’s mental resilience and wellbeing: Learning from HeadStart conference. This is the first in a series of biennial events presented by the Big Lottery Fund in collaboration with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families. The conference shared emerging learning from the six HeadStart partnerships alongside international learning from, Professor Michael Ungar, Dr Jessica Deighton and Professor Neil Humphrey.

About the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families

The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families is an independent charity using a rigorous evidence base and has developed and delivered pioneering mental health care for over 60 years. Our aim is to transform current mental health provision in the UK by improving the quality, accessibility and effectiveness of treatment. We believe that every child and their family should be at the heart of the care they receive, working in partnership with professionals. Our vision is a world where children and families are supported effectively to build on their strengths and to achieve their goals in life.

About the Evidence Based Practice Unit

Founded in 2006 as a collaboration between the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, EBPU bridges research and practice in children's mental health.

EBPU conducts research, develop tools, provides training, evaluates mental health interventions and disseminates evidence across four themes:

  1. Risk: What are the range of contexts and conditions that put a child or young person at risk of mental health issues?
  2. Resilience: What is it that enables some children to cope better than others in difficult circumstances?
  3. Change: What influences change in children’s mental health and wellbeing over time?
  4. Choice: What is the positive impact of children, families and practitioners making decisions together, and what are the ways this can happen?

EBPU’s vision is for all children and young people’s wellbeing support to be informed by real-world evidence so that every child thrives.

About HeadStart

HeadStart is five-year £56 million National Lottery funded programme set-up by the Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. It aims to explore and test new ways to improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Six local authority-led HeadStart partnerships are based in Blackpool, Cornwall, Hull, Kent, Newham and Wolverhampton. Working in schools, and with families, charities, community and public services, the HeadStart partnerships are designing, testing and implementing different approaches to build young people’s emotional resilience, respond to the early signs of common mental health problems and provide additional joined-up support when and where it is needed. This support looks at how young people’s mental health and wellbeing is affected by their experiences at school, their ability to access the community services they need, their home life and relationship with family members, and their interaction with digital technology.

About the Big Lottery Fund

Big Lottery Fund uses money raised by National Lottery players to help communities achieve their ambitions. From small, local projects to UK-wide initiatives, our funding brings people together to make a difference to their health, wellbeing and environment. Since June 2004 we have awarded £8.5 billion to projects that improve the lives of millions of people.

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