Mental Health Champion Report

Factors Affecting Mental Health and Wellbeing in Children and Young People in Northern Ireland

The Office of the Mental Health Champion has launched a new report on ‘Factors Affecting Mental Health and Wellbeing in Children and Young People in Northern Ireland’. 

New findings from the report show that 45.2% of 16-year-olds in NI meet the criteria for mental ill-health (female 52.9%, males 32.8%). The findings also revealed that the wellbeing of 11-year-olds in NI has declined in recent years to its lowest ever score since 2016.

These findings come from the 2023 Young Life and Times and Kids’ Life and Times surveys which each had a section on mental health that was funded by the Mental Health Champion. The Mental Health Champion’s section also included questions to identify causes of worry and stress for young people, as well as the supports and barriers to support that they have.  

High proportions of 11-year-olds had worries about their relationships with peers, relationships at home, and pressure to do well at school. Concern about the household finances was also a common source of stress. The same worries: family and peer relationships, and financial worries, impacted high proportions of 16-year-olds; with 80% of 16-year-olds reporting worrying about the pressure to do well at school (this was double the proportion of 11-year-olds who reported the same concern (39.1%)). 

More than 1 in 5 young people in both age groups worried about family financial pressures. Whilst this may be attributed to the current “Cost of Living Crisis”, there are high proportions of the NI population living in relative and absolute poverty; and poverty/and deprivation are consistent predictors of poor mental health. 

Several recommendations are suggested as ways to help address the concerns raised in the today’s report including: 

  • A Programme for Government which prioritizes reducing social inequalities and improving the wellbeing of all citizens.
  • Providing strong parenting support and programmes, such as those offered by Parenting NI.
  • Full Relationships and Sexuality Education in school curriculum. 
  • Full implementation of Children and Young People’s Strategy 2020-2030
  • Asking the Independent Review of Education to consider the ways in which the features of our education system can harm the mental health of our young people.
  • Implementation of the Children and Young People’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing in Education Framework, in all schools.
  • Full implementation of the Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031, including the Plan for Early Intervention and Prevention.

Speaking about the findings of the survey, Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill remarked: 

“Mental ill-health costs NI at £3.4 billion annually, and we know the most cost effective approach to reducing the burden of suffering is through early intervention and prevention, particularly in relation to early years, parenting, psychological therapies and addressing bullying in schools.  This study identifies the sources of stress and worry for children and young people and highlights the policy responses that are needed to address these issues and improve young people’s lives.

Funding for the continued implementation of the Mental Health Strategy is vital so that our services can deliver effective treatments for young people with a mental illness. In addition, social policies which address poverty and inequality are necessary to reduce the burden of suffering as well as the economic cost of mental ill-health in the longer term. We need a strong Programme for Government that prioritises wellbeing and recognises the value of good mental health. It is now vital that we fast track the implementation of existing Strategies and policies; and reform the education system to prioritise children’s wellbeing and development, so that future generations can enjoy good mental health, achieve their goals, and flourish.”

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