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Almost half of young people in the most deprived areas struggling to get the mental health support they need

New findings from the COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities study (COSMO) show that a quarter of Year 13 students (aged 17-18) have sought some form of mental health support over the previous 12 months, yet many are struggling to access that support. Of those who sought help, 35% said they were either on a waiting list or had otherwise yet to receive it.

Importantly, the research reveals that young people in the most deprived parts of the country are 11 percentage points more likely to say they are still waiting or have not received the support they applied for, at 39% compared to 28% of those in the most affluent areas.

The disparities in access to specialist mental health support services, such as NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), were even more stark. Young people living in the poorest areas were more than twice as likely to have not received support as the most affluent pupils – 39% in deprived areas had not received or were still waiting for support, compared to just 18% in more affluent areas.

Overall, the study shows that 44% of Year 13s could be classified as experiencing high psychological distress between November 2022 and April 2023, the same proportion as in the previous COSMO study last year (October 2021-April 2022) and considerably higher than 35% in 2017 and 23% in 2007 in studies of similar age groups. This underscores the alarming trend that the mental health of the current generation is worse than that of previous generations.


The COSMO cohort study is a collaboration between the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) and the Sutton Trust. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation. Data from the study is available through the UK Data Service.

Dr Jake Anders, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), and COSMO’s Principal Investigator, said: “The scale of the crisis in young people’s mental health is already well known. But these new findings from COSMO show that we are simply not doing enough to tackle it. It is vital that we properly resource mental health services across the country. There is no quick, cheap fix to achieving that.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “This research underscores the severity of the mental health crisis facing youngsters, who have endured significant disruption to their education and social lives since the pandemic. It’s particularly troubling that young people from the poorest parts of England and those from working class backgrounds are struggling the most to access mental health support. There can be no doubt that this is likely to harm their future life chances if it is not addressed.”

The latest COSMO dataset was released via the UK Data Service earlier this week and is available to download: SN 9158 COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities Study: Wave 2, 2022-2023.


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