Young people from poorer families are at a greater risk of developing future mental health problems than their wealthier classmates, a worrying new report from the Children’s Society suggests.
The report – Poor Mental Health: The Links Between Child Poverty and Mental Health Problems (pdf) – highlights the links between mental health and debt, poor housing, unemployment, isolation, and poor access to public services.
The Children’s Society’s report found that teenagers living in poverty are less likely to feel optimistic about the future, and more likely to consider themselves as failures.
A survey of 16-19-year-olds found that 29 percent of poorer young people do not feel optimistic about the future, compared to 20 percent of teenagers from wealthier backgrounds.
Teenagers growing up in poverty were also more likely to think of themselves as failures (20 percent), when compared to those from wealthier families (14 percent).
A similar difference can be also found among those who say they “don’t feel useful”, with 22 percent of poorer teenagers saying this compared to 18 percent of those who aren’t.
Despite the worrying differences in how young people from opposite financial backgrounds think of themselves, the Children’s Society says only one in ten mental health trusts currently prioritise children living in poverty.
With child poverty predicted to rise over the next few years, as support for low-income families is cut, the charity warns that demand for child and adolescent mental health services is likely to increase.
This would come at a time when mental health services are already struggling to cope with existing demand.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Evidence shows that children who live in poverty are exposed to a range of risks that can have a serious impact on their mental health, including debt, poor housing and low income.
“Yet despite this, Government and health trusts are failing to recognise children in poverty as a vulnerable group for mental health problems.
“Indeed, by cutting support for low income families the Government risks further entrenching the impact of poverty on the mental health of children across the country and perpetuating the cycle. It’s time children in poverty were given the support they need.”
The Children’s Society is calling on all schools to make sure counselors are available to help all young people in need of support, including those from poorer families.
Separate research by the charity discovered that children are having to wait an average 66 days to access mental health services, with some waiting up to five months.