Toddlers who are behaving badly are now being branded mentally ill, according to a major NHS report
The first official survey of children’s mental health since 2004 claims that one in eighteen preschool children are suffering from a psychological condition.
The report concludes that hundreds of thousands of two to four-year-olds have “at least one mental disorder”.
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The Telegraph reports: The results were last night described by charities as painting a “harrowing” picture of juvenile suffering.
But the report was also criticised by experts for inappropriately “medicalising” unruly behaviour. Based on information from 9,117 children and young people, health chiefs say 5.5 per cent of preschool children now have a mental health disorder.
However, nearly half of these were characterised as “behavioural”, with the single most common form being “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD).
The concept was devised decades ago in the US, but it was not fully adopted by England’s National Institute of Health and Care Excellence until 2013.
The watchdog recommends that parents of affected children attend NHS-funded parenting classes.
To be diagnosed with ODD a toddler must display at least four symptoms, such as spite, aggression and disobedience, for six months or longer.
Professor Tamsin Ford of Exeter Univeristy, who co-authored the new report, defended the criteria, saying he behaviour of children with ODD is often so bad it prompts parents to question whether they should let them out of the house.
“It does affect these young people – their health is poor and their educational outcomes are poor,” she said.
But Julian Elliott, Professor of Education at Durham University, said: “We are turning everything into a mental health problem.’
“For many of these children they don’t have a mental disorder; it’s a question of conduct. “The main problem with three and four-year-olds is that they don’t do what they’re told.”
The report also found that one in eight – 12.8 per cent – of five to 19-year-olds had a mental health disorder in 2017, a small increase on 2004, although the figures are not directly comparable.
Dr Dennis Ougrin, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and lecturer at King’s College London, said the rise was not as large as predicted.
“The increase is almost entirely explained by an increase in the prevalence of emotional disorders, especially in girls,” he said.
A third of schoolgirls with mental health problems have self-harmed or attempted suicide, rising to more than half of sixth-form girls, the report found.
Meanwhile a third of girls and nearly a quarter of boys with mental health disorders were found to spend more than four hours a day on social media. This compared to 12 per cent of other children.
Dr Jon Goldin, vice chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “These figures paint a predictably harrowing picture of young people’s mental health.
Particularly concerning is the rise in emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression, affecting almost six per cent of all five to 15 year-olds.