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Mental health of children and young people

Leicester Children's Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA). Health and social care needs associated with the mental health of children and young people.

Mental health problems in children and young people are common and a significant burden of illness. They can have wide-ranging and lasting effects; for example most lifelong mental illness begins by age 14. Childhood mental illness can lead to significant distress and poor outcomes in educational attainment, employment prospects, social relationships and long term physical health problems.

Mental wellbeing is important for healthy development. It is influenced by social and economic circumstances, the wider environment, individual and family characteristics. As a city with high rates of deprivation, inequality and variable attainment at school, the risk factors for poor mental health in Leicester children are high.

Population profile

There are high rates of mental health problems in boys and girls across England. The Office of National Statistics estimates that 10% of children have a clinically diagnosable mental disorder; that is a problem with significant impairment. There is some variation according to age group and gender.

More information on specific mental health disorders and issues are available in the full chapter.

The level of need in the population

Families, Parenting and Early Years

Circumstances before birth including unwanted or teenage pregnancy, can affect individual mental health. Use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs in pregnancy can affect brain development.

Neonatal attachment is important for social and emotional development.

Between 10% and 20% of women develop a mental health problem in pregnancy or in the first year of having a baby. The exact number of men having mental health problems in the same period is not known.

School-aged Children

Childhood years are vital for developing life skills. Negative experiences at home or school, linked for instance to conflict or bullying, can damage cognitive and emotional development.

Risks to mental health include family violence or conflict, negative life events, low sense of connection to learning environments. Socio-economic conditions and poor living conditions may reduce opportunities for learning and social interaction, increasing a child’s exposure to disease and injury.


Adolescence is the period when mental disorder is more likely to become apparent. Adverse experiences, conditions or environments that apply to children apply at this stage with the emergence of other risks such as tobacco, drug and alcohol use. Adolescents who are exposed to family unrest or those who exhibit behavioural problems are more likely to engage in psychoactive substance use. Adolescents may also be susceptible to peer pressure and media influences which may encourage risk taking behaviour.

Young Adults

Individuals who have a secure and supportive childhood and adolescence are generally better equipped to exercise control and react to challenging adult circumstances. Generally young adults who are not in employment or education are more vulnerable to mental health problems. However, there are increasing numbers of students presenting with mental health problems.

Current services in relation to need

The resources available, in addition to Children’s Centres, include;

  • Health visitors
  • School Nurses
  • GPs
  • Educational Psychologists
  • Schools
  • Community Paediatricians
  • The range of specialist mental health services for children and young people.

Better use of universal services, escalating to the more specialist CAMHS tiers when appropriate, may contribute to more effective prevention of mental health problems and better treatment. This improvement should be underpinned by prevention and earlier intervention, developing the workforce and tackling stigma.

Projected Service Use

The population of children and young people, aged 5 to 24 years, in Leicester is projected to increase from 104,700 to 120,100 a rise of 14.7%. A crude estimate of the prevalence of mental illness based on this increase suggests that up to 6,400 children in Leicester could have a diagnosed mental illness by 2035, the current estimate is 5,250.

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