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Child mental illness 'now stable at one in 10'
Lucy Ward, social affairs correspondent
Thursday September 1, 2005
One in 10 children in Britain has a recognised mental disorder, ranging from depression to autism, according to the latest government figures.
The study, the second to map patterns of child mental health nationally, also found that boys were more likely than girls to have a mental disorder, and that in general children in poorer, worse-educated or lone parent families were likelier to be affected.
The statistics, based on a 2004 study of 8,000 children in England, Scotland and Wales, echo the findings of the first survey of child mental health in Britain in 1999, which recorded the same proportion of youngsters with a disorder.
They were interpreted yesterday
as an indication that levels of mental health disorders among five-
to 16-year-olds, which had risen over the preceding 25 years, had now
stabilised and may begin to fall.
Of youngsters with a so-called hyperkinetic disorder - often broadly labelled attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - 43% were taking some form of medication; mainly drugs such as Ritalin.
In 2004, according to the Office for National Statistics figures, 4% of children had an emotional disorder such as anxiety, depression or phobias, while 6% had a conduct disorder, characterised by aggressive or antisocial behaviour.
Two percent had a hyperkinetic disorder, while another 1% had less common disorders such as autism, tics or eating disorders. A total of 2% of children had more than one type of disorder, bringing the total proportion of youngsters affected to one in 10.
Robert Goodman, the co-author of the study and a professor at King's College London Institute of Psychiatry, said the close similarity between the 1999 survey and the latest figures was "good news".
He said: "In the previous 25 years, the level of problems, particularly behavioural problems, had doubled.
"It looks as though things are stabilising and then beginning to fall."
Britain appeared to be mirroring a similar pattern in the US, where child mental health was improving, he said.
Dinah Morley, the deputy director of the young people's mental health charity YoungMinds, welcomed the fact that mental health problems among children had not risen. She said the government had made significant investments in improving child mental health, but there were "no quick fixes".
Despite media concern, levels of medication for children with hyperkinetic disorders, at 43% of youngsters affected by the condition, indicated Britain was not over-medicating. "Actually, we are probably not medicating enough children who could benefit," she said.
The 2004 survey also puts the highest reliable figure to date on the proportion of youngsters in Britain with an autistic spectrum disorder, Prof Goodman said. It suggests that 0.9% of five- to 16-year-olds, 82% of them boys, have such a disorder. The 1999 study put the figure at 0.3%.
Prof Goodman said the figure did not reflect an increase - something often suggested, and sometimes controversially linked to the measles, mumps and rubella inoculation.
In fact, past analyses had filtered out too many children early on, rather than taking a genuinely representative sample, he said.
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