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Youth Wellbeing Prevalence Survey 2020

The Youth Wellbeing Survey was commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board, from Transformation funding from the Department of Health.

The survey and report was compiled by Ulster University, Queen’s University Belfast, and the Mental Health Foundation over 18 months.

The study collected data from more than 3,000 children and young people in Northern Ireland, and on more than 2,800 parents and caregivers.

Survey Findings

This study delivers for the first time ever, reliable prevalence estimates of common mental health problems in children and young people in Northern Ireland.

We have collected data on over 3,000 young people aged 2-19 years, along with measures of mental health and wellbeing in over 2,800 parents.

We have found that the rates of mental health disorder in Northern Ireland are broadly in line with other international studies, but with slightly higher rates for anxiety and mood disorders.

Rates of anxiety and depression are around 25% higher in the child and youth population in comparison to other UK nations.  This reflects a similar trend in the adult population in Northern Ireland.

1 in 8 children and young people in Northern Ireland experience emotional difficulties, 1 in 10 conduct problems, and 1 in 7 problems with hyperactivity.1 in 8 children and young people meet the diagnostic criteria for common mood and anxiety disorders.

1 in 20 young people aged 11-19 years display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD)

Using a number of screening measures: 7.7% of children and young people aged 2-19 years were found to be at risk of autism; almost 19% of young people aged 11-19 years met the threshold for psychotic-like experiences; and 16.2% of young people aged 11-19 years engaged in a pattern of disordered eating. It is important to note that these figures do not represent a formal diagnosis but, instead, highlight at risk groups potentially requiring formal assessment.

Almost 1 in 10 young people aged 11 – 19 years reported having engaged in self-injurious behaviour and roughly 1 in 8 reported have thought about or attempted suicide, with 6.6% having made a plan and 3.5% having made an attempt.

Spending too much time on social media was a problem for 1 in 20 young people aged 11-19 years.

A wide range of child, family and socioeconomic factors were associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety disorders. These include exposure to family trauma and adversity, poor health and disability, special educational needs, household receipt of social security benefits and parental mental health.

Problems with peers were substantially lower than other UK studies and rates of positive behaviours – such as giving, helping, and sharing – were higher.

Of particular interest, is the higher rate of emotional and behaviour problems in younger boys (aged 5-10 years) in comparison with other studies.

Opportunities for prevention and early intervention have been identified within the data including screening for psychotic like symptoms that can indicate a higher risk of developing mental health problems, and prevalence rates of disordered eating, self-injury and suicide prevention.

Future plans

The next stage will involve close collaboration with key stakeholders working in the fields of mental health, education and social care to consider the implications of the findings for future policy, service commissioning and practice in Northern Ireland. Importantly, these findings will inform the development of the NI Mental Health Strategy due for publication in 2021.