Youth Face “Unprecedented” Mental Health Crisis in UK


The UK’s youth mental health crisis has reached an “unprecedented scale”.

The latest: In an urgent letter to MPs, England Athletics and other sports organisations – including the Youth Sport Trust, parkrun and the Sport and Recreation Alliance – are asking for PE to be at the core of the national curriculum.

Brits are notably among the most inactive in Europe, with kids hit the worst, and this link between movement and well-being drives the letter’s key message.

The authors speak of “failing” young people who leave school “unfit, inactive and dealing with poor mental health” and demands equal access to PE in light of the “profound and positive effect physical activity can have on mental health and well-being in children and adults”.

By the numbers: NHS data shows that in the year to March 2023, there were ~21K urgent referrals to mental health crisis teams, up 46% from 2022. And disconcerting trends in physical health appear to follow in parallel:

  • The hours young people spend doing PE and sport in UK secondary schools has fallen by ~12% since the 2012 London Olympics.
  • Poor mental health costs the UK ~£56B a year, spending more on inactivity-linked healthcare than most European countries.
  • One in six young people aged 6–16 have mental health problems, up from one in nine in 2017, with 10% being clinically diagnosed.

The long run. 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by 24. Integrating physical activity into the curriculum, as England Athletics’ CEO Chris Jones noted, is a long-term solution benefiting children and future adults:

“Running and physical education should be treated for children and young people the same as English, maths and science.”

Takeaway: Initiatives like parkrun and England Athletics’ funetics support extra-curricular activity. But they’re not enough, especially as gender, race and socioeconomic barriers build up rather than break down. Putting physical activity at the heart of school learning makes regular movement mandatory and introduces healthy habits for adherence into adulthood.

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