More than one million children are suffering from mental disorders severe enough to require treatment, doctors say.
Rising divorce rates, increased drinking among young people and competitive pressures are among the factors behind the trend, with both sexes and all social classes affected. But a shortage of specialists and widespread stigmatisation of those with mental problems means many children are denied help or face long waits for treatment.
A report by the British Medical Association's Board of Science, published yesterday, said one in 10 children between the ages of one and 15 had a mental health disorder - ranging from sleep problems to excessive temper tantrums and depression.
The sharpest increase has been in behavioural disorders which have doubled in the past 30 years leading to a spread of stealing, lying and disobedience. More than 700,000 children are affected severely enough by behavioural disorders to require treatment, which disrupts school classes and family life,
The proportion of boys with conduct disorders has risen from 7.6 per cent in 1974 to 16 per cent in 2004. Among girls, the proportion has risen from 6 per cent in 1974 to 7.9 per cent in 2004, but experts say girls may be under-diagnosed.
Attention deficit disorder -the symptoms of which include restlessness, overactivity and difficulty concentrating - affects a further 5.1 per cent of boys and 0.8 per cent of girls.
David Skuse, professor of brain and behavioural science at the Institute of Child Health, London, said the biggest increase had been in "non-aggressive" conduct disorders - stealing, lying and disobedience - rather than in fighting and bullying whose prevalence had remained steady. Speaking at the launch of the BMA's report, Professor Skuse said: "There does appear to have been a real increase [in disorders] that is not due to increased recognition of the problem or biased referral. The reasons are likely to be complex and are likely to affect children as a whole rather than subgroups."
Conduct disorders are defined as bad behaviour that is out of the ordinary and seriously breaks accepted rules, lasting for at least six months. It includes severe temper tantrums beyond the age at which they would be expected, severe and persistent disobedience, defiant provocative behaviour, excessive fighting, bullying and cruelty to others or to animals. …