We're calling for the government to act now and invest more in school and community counselling, as new NHS England data reveals that one in five children and young people in England had a probable mental health issue in 2023.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 report, published today by NHS England, found that 20.3% of eight to 16-year-olds had a probable mental health condition in 2023.

These figures compare to one in six children and young people in England who had a probable diagnosable condition back in 2022.

We believe that a paid counsellor should be available in every school, academy, and FE college in England, as well as in early help hub settings based within local communities.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have government funded school counselling services. England does not. 

Wake-up call

Jo Holmes, our Children, Young People and Families Lead said: “The figures released today by NHS England should act as a wake-up call to the government that more investment is desperately needed in services such as school and community-based counselling services in England. These new statistics are further evidence that the mental health support available in England for children is simply inadequate and needs to catch up with other nations in the UK. There is no more essential time than now to influence this agenda in the run up to a general election.

“Family issues, the cost of living, exams, bullying, pressures of social media, self-worth, and the effects of the pandemic are just some of the issues affecting children and young people right now.

“Speaking to a school or community-based counsellor can be a transformative experience for children and young people. It can help them cope with the difficult circumstances they face in their lives - and to go on and flourish in the future. In fact, school counselling often reaches the missing middle of children and young people - those who don't meet the threshold for support for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) but need more help than can be offered by mental health support teams or existing pastoral support.

Sea change of funded service provision is needed

“Schools are currently expected to fund counselling provision themselves out of rapidly dwindling budgets or access free provision from short term funded local services which simply isn’t sustainable. A sea change of funded service provision is so desperately needed. We will be writing to all parties in the run up to the general election explaining how a Government funded counselling model could work.

“School counselling is an easily accessible, non-stigmatising and effective form of early intervention for reducing psychological distress in children and young people. A trained school counsellor gives a young person a place that is focused 100% on their needs – a safe space to help them to understand and cope with what they’re going through.

Counsellor in every school

“A paid school counsellor should be available in every school and college – and this is a message we continually stress to politicians, commissioners, funders and education leaders.”

After a rise in rates of probable diagnosable mental health issues between 2017 and 2020, prevalence continued at similar levels in all age groups between 2022 and 2023.

Among 17 to 19-year-olds, the proportion was 23.3%, while in 20 to 25-year-olds it was 21.7%.

Participants were also questioned about eating disorders for the first time since the 2017 survey. In 2023, 12.5% of 17 to 19-year-olds had an eating disorder, an increase from 0.8% in 2017. Between 2017 and 2023, rates rose both in young women (from 1.6% to 20.8%) and young men (from 0.0% to 5.1%) in this age group.

This year’s survey also found 5.9% of 20 to 25-year-olds had an eating disorder, while eating disorders were identified in 2.6% of 11 to 16-year-olds, compared with 0.5% in 2017 – with rates in 2023 four times higher in girls (4.3%) than boys (1.0%).

The Mental Health of Children and Young People 2023 survey, commissioned by NHS England, was carried out earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), University of Cambridge and University of Exeter.

At the end of November, BACP will host a roundtable event with partners to explore the impact of the cost of living on children’s and young people’s mental health. 

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 report, published today by NHS England, refers to the phrase ‘mental disorder’.