In the past ten years, the number of teenagers with depression has doubled, according to the mental health charity YoungMinds. If you listen to parents of teenagers, they all seem to have a story of someone they know ”“ a family at a loss about how to deal with their child’s depression. The figures seem to back up the anecdotal evidence. One in ten children and young people aged between five and sixteen suffers from a diagnosable mental-health disorder ”“ the easiest way to imagine this is around three children in every class in Britain. Around 7 per cent of British teenagers have tried to kill or harm themselves, yet only 6 per cent of the mental health budget is spent on under- eighteens. One of the most alarming statistics is the number of admissions to A&E departments for self-harm: over the past ten years, it has increased by 68 per cent. One expert tells me there is an “epidemic” of cutting.
Without help, the majority of children with mental-health problems go on to become mentally ill as adults. This is, Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the charity SANE, tells me, “the age of desperation”.
“If you really listen to what some of these young people are saying, there is a huge element of despair,” says Wallace. “Growing up has always been difficult, but the sense of desperation? That is new. There is a degree of alienation in this generation. There is no sense of belonging. They are much more isolated, partly due to social media. They are not connected to community, to families, to siblings, and that brings more disillusionment.” For Wallace, the dramatic rise in reports of self-harm is indicative of the amount of distress. “It is not a cry for help. It’s to stop themselves from doing something much worse.”