Mental Health Support
16 Nov 2023

Thirty-nine per cent of 16-18 year olds living in the most deprived areas are still waiting for mental health support, compared to just 18 per cent in more affluent areas, finds the COSMO Study into the impact of the pandemic on young people's life chances.

Social mobility think tank, The Sutton Trust, has found that the crisis in young people’s mental health is getting considerably worse, having a material impact on young people's lives and life chances and hitting the most disadvantaged the hardest. 

In research conducted by the COSMO (Covid Social Mobility and Opportunities) Study, 44 per cent of year 12 and year 13 students (16-17 and 17-18 year olds) were experiencing high levels of psychological distress – up from 35 per cent in 2017 for 17-18 year olds and from 23 per cent for 16-17 year olds in 2007.  

A quarter of those surveyed said they had sought some form of mental health support over the previous 12 months and 35 per cent of those said they were either on a waiting list or had not received the support they asked for. 

For those living in the most deprived parts of the country, the picture was considerably worse. 16 to 18 year olds in the poorest areas were more than twice as likely to have not received support as the most affluent young people – with 39 per cent in deprived areas still waiting for support, compared to 18 per cent in the most affluent areas. “This has the potential to store up long-term consequences for disadvantaged young people’s life chances,” said the study’s authors. 

The Sutton Trust said that the increase in psychological distress among young people was “a perfect storm of increased social media usage, the impact of the pandemic on young people’s development, and the cost of living crisis”. The combination of these issues was driving up anxiety levels among families, as well as creating practical issues that were detrimental to well-being, such as young people going to school or college hungry, due to cost of living pressures.  

Thirty-one per cent of those surveyed said that the COVID-19 pandemic was still having a negative impact on their mental wellbeing: that number was higher among girls (38 per cent) and even higher among bisexual young people (52 per cent) and gay/lesbian young people (49 per cent). 

This high incidence of mental health distress is also linked with declining rates of school attendance. A recent Department for Education survey found that one quarter of absences in June 2023 were due to anxiety or mental health problems, which is nine per cent higher than the figure reported in March 2022.  

Erica Holt-White, one of the authors, said: “There is a clear need for sustainable and well-funded mental health services, including preventative and early intervention services, which recognise and deal with the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic identified in this study. Such services should offer tailored support for non-binary+ and LGBTQ+ young people, delivered by professionals who have been trained to understand the needs of these individuals.” 

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, you can find local sources of support on this website.