Children who spent more than three hours using social networking websites on a school day were twice as likely to report high or very high scores for mental ill-health.

The Children’s Well-being 2015 publication, which for the first time includes an analysis of data on children’s mental ill-health, revealed that of those who were online for more than three hours, 27% reported high or very high scores for mental ill-health.

This is more than double those spending no time on them (12%) or those spending up to three hours on social media (11%).

Total difficulty score type by time spent using social media on a school day, UK, 2011 to 2012

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The Insights into Children's Mental Health and Wellbeing report is part of of ONS’s work on the well-being of children.

It looks at data from the Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire, designed by Prof Robert Goodman, which screens the behaviour of children aged two to 17.

The questionnaire measures emotional symptoms, conduct and behavioural problems, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems and sociable behaviour.

The first four elements are combined to deliver a Total Difficulties score, which can be used as a predictor of mental ill-health, but it is in no way a clinical diagnosis.

One in eight children – aged between 10 and 15 – scored high or very high scores.

Analysis of the 2011 to 2012 Total Difficulties scores of children showed there was a clear association between longer time spent on social websites and a higher score.

Around 7% of children aged 10 to 15 reported spending more than three hours on social websites on a typical school day, with girls more likely to than boys – 11% compared with 5%.

Children who spent more than three hours on social media on a school day reported significantly higher total difficulties scores (averaging 13.3 out of 40) than those who didn’t use it (10.2) or who spent less time using them (10.5).

Analysts also looked at other measures contained in the children’s wellbeing framework, in order to assess how they relate to mental ill-health.

Children who were bullied frequently were four times more likely to score highly or very highly

Total difficulty score type of children by prevalence of bullying, UK, 2011 to 2012

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The frequency of bullying was by far the strongest predictor of high Total Difficulties scores of all the measures used.

Research published in Peer Victimisation During Adolescence and its Impact on Depression in Early Adulthood  has shown that children who were bullied at 13 were more likely to have depression at 18.

Other analysis of academic research on bullying found that children who were bullied were more likely to report an increase in depression and anxiety over time.

The analysis also found that children with anxiety and depression were more likely to be bullied over time. The Insights into Children’s Mental Health and Well-being report found that the frequency of bullying was by far the strongest predictor of high Total Difficulties scores of all the measures used.

In 2011 to 2012, around one in eight children reported being bullied more than four times in the preceding six months. Those children had a significantly higher than average Total Difficulties Score (16.2) than those who had never been bullied or had been bullied less frequently (9.8).

The study also highlighted that those children bullied frequently in the previous six months were more than four times more likely to report high or very high Total Difficulties scores (41%) than those who were bullied less frequently or not at all (9%).

Children’s Mental Health:

In March 2015, the government pledged £1.25billion to improve mental health services for children and young people. The Department of Health and NHS England also published Future In Mind, detailing the work of the children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing taskforce, set up to improve mental health services and access to them for children.

Mental ill-health can manifest itself differently in children, for example in behavioural problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and emotional problems such as depression or anxiety.

Children’s well-being is an important part of the nation’s well-being but needs to be measured in a different way to adults. The framework for measuring national well-being puts indicators into 10 domains. To measure children’s well-being, seven domains have been adopted as a framework but have been populated with measures that reflect the aspects of children’s lives that are important to them, and have the greatest effect on their well-being.

ONS has developed a set of 31 headline measures of children’s well-being across the seven domains, which include both objective and subjective measures.

For more information, please contact: nationalwell-being@ons.gsi.gov.uk