Child mental health – incidence & persistence – Millennium Cohort Study findings

The government has announced various reforms as part of its strategy to help children who experience mental health difficulties. 

The comment below provides background to the numbers and ages of children experiencing mental health problems in the context of the Millennium Cohort Study conducted by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL-Institute of Education. 

Comment from Heather Joshi, Emeritus Professor of Economic and Developmental Demography, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, UCL-Institute of Education and co-author of the report, Children of the New Century for the Centre for Mental Health: 

“While this report does not suggest what schools might be able to do, it does provide evicence from the Millennium Cohort from four surveys up to age 11. In the pre-adolescent period, many children who showed severe problems (according to the total difficulty score) in early childhood did not do so at 11, but that there were a substantial proportion of children, particularly boys, for whom problems persisted to age 11. One quarter of boys and one sixth of girls had ever shown problems up to age 11, 4.5% of boys and 1.6% of girls had shown persistent severe problems. Mental health problems are thus fairly widespread among children, but also concentrated among a minority who do not grow out of them.”

Below is an extract from the executive summary of the Millennium Cohort Study Children of the New Century report for the Centre for Mental Health.

‘Incidence and persistence – The Millennium Cohort Study has so far collected information on the mental health of children in the sample at four different ages (3, 5, 7 and 11). This can be analysed to show how many children ever recorded severe mental health problems between the ages of 3 and 11 (incidence) and how many with severe problems at age 11 had these problems repeatedly (persistence).

Just over a fifth of all children in the MCS were assessed with severe mental health problems at one or more of the four ages surveyed. This implies that the incidence of severe problems at some point during childhood is roughly twice as high as the prevalence of these problems at any single age. On the other hand, only 1.5% of children had severe problems at all four ages. Defining persistent cases as those children who had severe problems at three or four surveys including at age 11, it is estimated that 3.6% of all 11-year-old children fall into this category. Persistence is nearly three times as common among boys as among girls.’

GUTMAN, L.M, JOSHI, H, PARSONAGE, M and SCHOON, I. (2015) Children of the New Century: Mental health findings from the Millennium Cohort Study. Centre for Mental Health Report. London: Centre for Mental Health.

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