British kids from poorer areas less likely to get proper mental health support, report suggests

Childline has become inundated with calls from youngsters about their mental health. (Picture: Adobe Stock)Childline has become inundated with calls from youngsters about their mental health. (Picture: Adobe Stock)
Childline has become inundated with calls from youngsters about their mental health. (Picture: Adobe Stock) | Adobe Stock
Youngsters who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are struggling the most, the study found.

Young people in the most deprived areas of the country are less likely to receive the mental health support they need than their peers, a report suggests.

A quarter of Year 13 students had sought some mental health support over the past year but many were struggling to access services, according to the Cosmo (Covid Social Mobility and Opportunities) study. Among the students who sought mental health support, more than a third (35 per cent) said they had yet to receive it or were on a waiting list, according to the study by the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, and the Sutton Trust.

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Nearly two in five (39 per cent) young people in the poorest parts of England said they were still waiting or had not received the support they applied for, compared to 28 per cent of those in the most affluent areas. The study has been tracking the lives of a cohort of thousands of young people in England who took A-level exams and equivalent qualifications this summer. More than 11,000 students in Year 13 (aged between 17 and 18) were surveyed between October 2022 and February 2023 as part of the research. More than two in five (44 per cent) of Year 13 students could be classified as experiencing high psychological distress, the study suggests.

Those identifying as non-binary+ were more likely to be classified as having high psychological distress (74 per cent) than females (56 per cent) and males (32 per cent), according to the research. Non-binary+ young people (67 per cent) were more likely to report seeking support with their mental health than females (33 per cent) and males (15 per cent).

Researchers have called for sustainable and well-funded support for young people experiencing mental health issues, with a focus on improving services in the most deprived areas. They added that schools should develop more tailored support for non-binary+ and LGBTQ+ students with input from professionals who had been trained to understand the needs of these young people.

Jake Anders, associate professor and deputy director of the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, said the findings showed society was “not doing enough” to tackle the crisis in young people’s mental health.

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He said: “It is vital that we properly resource mental health services across the country. There is no quick, cheap fix to achieving that. We must also ensure that these services are targeted to where there is the most need. If more young people living in worse-off areas are not receiving the support that they need, this will widen existing gaps in life chances.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “It’s particularly troubling that young people from the poorest parts of England and those from working-class backgrounds are struggling the most to access mental health support. There can be no doubt that this is likely to harm their future life chances if it is not addressed.”

A government spokeswoman said: “Through the NHS Long Term Plan, we are investing an extra £2.3bn a year by March 2024 for mental health services, meaning an additional 345,000 children and young people will be able to access NHS-funded mental health support. We also know that schools and colleges play a vital role in promoting the well-being of children and young people which is why we are extending coverage of mental health support teams in schools and colleges to at least 50 per cent of pupils in England by the end of March 2025.”

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