Who is at risk?
Any child or young person can develop mental health issues. But research has shown there are some factors that are associated with children and young people's long-term mental health.
Abuse and neglect
The traumatic impact of abuse and neglect increases the likelihood of children developing a range of mental health issues – both during childhood and in later life. These include anxiety, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Norman et al, 2012; Spatz Widom, 1999).
Specific types of abuse may be connected to certain mental health issues. Children who have experienced emotional abuse may be more likely to develop anxiety and depression compared with children who have experienced other types of abuse (Cecil et al, 2017; Gavin 2011). One study found that almost three quarters (74%) of young people who had experienced sexual assault developed PTSD (Lewis et al, 2019).
Abuse and neglect can also make children more vulnerable to developing more than one mental health condition at one time (known as composite mental health issues) (Chandan et al, 2019).
Providing effective mental health support for children who have experienced abuse and neglect can help them recover from its effects (NSPCC, 2019b).
Additional needs and disabilities
Children and young people with additional needs and disabilities may face a range of challenges including:
- reduced mobility
- prejudice, discrimination and bullying.
These challenges may lead to lower self-confidence, difficulty forming peer networks and social exclusion, putting them at higher risk of developing mental health issues (Falcounbrige, Hunt and Laffan, 2019).
Adults may confuse the signs of learning disabilities with the symptoms of mental health issues. This can mean concerns aren't recognised and responded to quickly or appropriately.
Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children
Children from black and minority ethnic groups may experience:
- racism, discrimination and prejudice – this can be direct, indirect or institutional
- an increased stigma around mental health issues in the community.
This can lead to inequalities and issues in accessing appropriate care and support for mental health needs (Race Equality Foundation, 2020).
Stressful or traumatic situations and experiences, such as bereavement or sudden changes in environment, can trigger mental health issues.
Living in care
Children in care are more likely than their peers to have a mental health difficulty (NSPCC, 2019c). This can be due to isolation and loneliness. Children in care may also have experienced abuse or neglect, which increases the likelihood of developing mental health issues (National Youth Advocacy Service, 2019)
LGBTQ+ children and young people
LGBTQ+ children and young people may experience:
- prejudice, discrimination and bullying
- a fear of or an actual rejection from family and/or friends
- feeling excluded or like an outsider.
They may also experience gender dysphoria: the distress when someone's assigned gender does not match their identity.
These factors and experiences mean they are more likely than their heterosexual and cisgender peers to experience a range of mental health problems (Chakraborty et al, 2011; Becerra-Culqui, et al 2018).