Helping Shape Your Future

Since 1986

Helping Shape Your Future

Since 1986

What is it?

Mental illnesses are surprisingly common in children and youth. About one in seven young people or 14%—will experience a mental illness at some point. Many mental illnesses—between 50% and about 70%—show up before the age of 18, so they can have a huge impact on a child’s development. Mental illnesses can affect how well kids do in school and how they form relationships with other kids and adults. Mental illnesses, if not treated early, can be disruptive enough to a kid’s normal development that it can affect them for the rest of their lives. Below are some common mental illnesses that affect children and teens:

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common illness to affect children and youth. About 6% of YP experience an anxiety disorder at some point. Anxiety disorders can cause YP to be extremely afraid of things or situations to the point that it interferes with daily life.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects just under 5% of YP at any given time. ADHD makes it very difficult for YP to focus their attention. A child with ADHD is also more impulsive and harder to settle down than other children.
  • Conduct disorder affects about 3% of YP. It leads YP to be extremely aggressive and destructive toward other people, pets or property. They may also seem like they don’t care about important but basic rules, such as by doing things like regularly skipping school/college or running away from home.
  • Depression is a mood disorder that shows up most often during the teenage years. About 3.5% of YP experience depression. Depression can affect attitudes and emotions, making them feel unusually sad or irritated for more than two weeks at a time.
  • Psychosis is a condition that involves loss of contact with reality. It affects 3% of the total population but most often appears later in adolescence and early adulthood. It can be seen on its own or with many of the illnesses mentioned in this info sheet.
  • Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that may affect up to about 1% of YP. It usually starts during the teenage years, but in rare cases, it may be seen in younger children. Bipolar disorder can cause a YP’s moods to change back and forth between extremely high moods, called mania, and extremely low moods, called depression.
  • Eating disorders are less common in YP, but the risk increases with age. Anorexia affects up to 1% of young males and females aged 15-24, and bulimia affects up to 3% of YP. Eating disorders involve a distorted body image along with seriously harmful behaviours to manage food and weight, making it difficult to nourish oneself properly.
  • Schizophrenia affects about 1% of the total population, and usually shows up between the ages of 15 and 25. Schizophrenia makes it hard for people to think and speak in an organized way. It can also cause people to lose touch with reality.
  • Suicide often goes alongside a mental illness. Suicide continues to be the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year-olds, after motor vehicle accidents. Suicidal thinking or attempts are also common. A survey found that in one year, 5% of youth had made a suicide attempt and 12% seriously thought about suicide.

What causes mental illness in young adults?

Psychological factors that may contribute to mental illness include: Severe psychological trauma suffered as a child, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. An important early loss, such as the loss of a parent or neglect. 

Young people and mental health

As well as physical changes to the body and hormones from about age 11, they also experience significant behavioural and emotional changes. There are alterations to the functioning and make up of brain tissue, which is known as brain maturation. This continues until about the age of 30.

The greatest barrier to accessing services is fear of stigma and discrimination.

  • Three quarters of adults with mental health problems are not receiving treatment.
  • 526,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2017/18
  • Working days lost, 2017/18. Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill-health, 15.4 million. On average, each person suffering took around 16.5days off work.
  • The main workplace factors causing work related stress anxiety or depressions are: workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and lack of managerial support.
  • Suicide rates in Liverpool have doubled since 2008

Suicide and self-harm

Suicide and self-harm are not mental health problems themselves, but they are linked with mental distress. Self-harm is not necessarily linked with suicide, but can increase the risk of suicide. In contrast to statistics on the prevalence of mental health problems, suicide statistics are collected systematically across the UK through coroners’ reports. We therefore have a much clearer picture of the number of people who die by suicide than of those affected by mental health problems.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2016, a total of 6,122 suicides were recorded in the UK for people aged 10 and older (10.8 deaths per 100,000 population). This equates to approximately one death every two hours – a 2% decrease from 2015. Of these, 75.6% were male and 24.4% were female.

Discriminatory language and mental health

Language related to mental health and mental health problems can lead to reinforcing stereotypes and myths about people with mental health problems. It may result in individuals and groups feeling isolated. People with mental health problems can be disadvantaged through the attitudes expressed by people through the language they use. The anti-stigma campaign Time to Change identifies some common phrases that can cause offence and are inaccurate in their description of mental health problems and it suggests possible alternatives for them.

Helplines and support networks

For those in distress or who need to talk someone, the NHS Choices website lists the following helplines and support networks:

Samaritans operates a 24-hour service on available every day of the year by calling 116 123, and an email service is available at

Childline , on 0800 1111, runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number do not show up in the phone bill.

PAPYRUS , 0800 068 4141, is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.

Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It does not have a helpline, but offers resources and links to other relevant information.

Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.

Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying