One in 10 Children ‘Has Mental Problems’

One child in 10 aged between one and 15 has a mental health problem, according to doctors, and all children excluded from school should receive a psychiatric assessment. A British Medical Association (BMA) report Child and Adolescent Mental Health says that 1.1 million children between the ages of one and 15 suffer some form of psychiatric problem, including sleep disorders, excessive temper tantrums, depression and obsessive disorders.

The highest rates of illness are seen in children from black and ethnic minority groups. Those who had witnessed domestic violence or were asylum seekers were particularly vulnerable. The incidence of conduct disorders had doubled since the 1970s, according to David Skuse, a professor of behaviour and brain science at the Institute of Child Health in London.

This has been a real increase, he added, not an increase in reporting. “We do not really have an explanation,” he said. “[It] does not appear to be focused on areas of social deprivation.”

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said that factors involved might include an increase in drug and alcohol abuse. While the number of 11- to 15-year-olds who reported drinking in the previous week was constant at 23 per cent, the quantity consumed had risen from 5.3 drinks in 1990 to 10.7 drinks in 2004.

Dr Nathanson said only one third of those excluded from school were currently assessed by a mental health team. Government statistics for the academic year 2003-04 show that about 10,000 children were permanently excluded.