Children’s mental health matters

In support of Children’s Mental Health Week, we wanted to highlight the growing concern about mental health in children and how we can help.

During Children’s Mental Health Week we want all children and young people, whoever they are, and wherever they are in the world, to be able to say – and believe – “My Voice Matters” which is this years theme.

My Voice Matters is about empowering children and young people by providing them with the tools they need to express themselves.

Having a sense of empowerment can have a positive impact on our wellbeing. Children and young people who feel like their voices are heard and can make a difference are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and have a higher sense of self-esteem. The goal this year is to empower children of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to create a positive change in their mental health and wellbeing.

Alarmingly, 75% of children and young people who experience mental health problems aren’t getting the help they need.

The emotional well-being of children is just as important as their physical health. It is important for them to develop good mental health so that they are capable of coping with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.

Things that can help keep children and young people mentally well include:

  • being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
  • having time and freedom to play, indoors and outdoors
  • being part of a family that gets along well most of the time
  • going to a school that looks after the wellbeing of all its pupils
  • taking part in local activities

A feeling of trust, safety, love, and understanding are also key factors. Positive and resilient children, who feel like they belong, have some control over their lives, and are optimistic are more likely to have good mental health.

Despite the fact that most children grow up mentally healthy, surveys suggest that the number of children and young people who struggle with mental health problems has increased since 30 years ago.

What can affect children and young people’s mental health?

A traumatic event can trigger mental health problems in children and young people who are already at risk.

Triggers include changes such as moving home, changing schools, or the birth of a new sibling. It is common for children to feel anxious about making new friends and doing new activities when they start school, but some may also feel excited about making new friends.

The mental and physical development of teenagers is often marked by emotional turmoil. Taking care of yourself and accepting who you are is an important part of growing up. It can be difficult for young adults to make the transition to adulthood and they may experiment with alcohol, drugs, or other substances that can affect their mental health.

Are some children and young people more likely to experience mental health problems?

Some children and young adults may be more susceptible than others to mental health issues due to specific risk factors. However, experiencing them doesn’t mean a child will definitely – or even probably – go on to have mental health problems.

These factors include:

  • Having a long-term physical illness.
  • A parent who has had mental health problems, problems with alcohol or has been in trouble with the law.
  • The death of someone close to them.
  • Parents who separate or divorce.
  • Experiencing severe bullying or physical or sexual abuse.
  • Poverty or homelessness.
  • Experiencing discrimination.
  • Caring for a relative, taking on adult responsibilities.
  • Having long-lasting difficulties at school.

Signs a child might be struggling

At some point, a large number of children and teenagers will struggle with emotional or behavioural problems. Some will go away on their own with time, while others will require professional help.

It might be difficult to know if there is something upsetting your child, but there are ways to spot when something’s wrong. Look out for:

  • Significant changes in behaviour.
  • Ongoing difficulty sleeping.
  • Withdrawing from social situations.
  • Not wanting to do things they usually like.
  • Self-harm or neglecting themselves.

What mental health problems commonly occur in children?

  • Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades. Teenagers are more likely to experience depression than young children.
  • Self-harm is a very common problem among young people. Some people who experience intense emotional pain may try to deal with it by hurting themselves.
  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause young people to become extremely worried. Very young children or children starting or moving school may have separation anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can follow physical or sexual abuse, witnessing something extremely frightening or traumatising, being the victim of violence or severe bullying or surviving a disaster.
  • Children who are consistently overactive, impulsive and have difficulty paying attention may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Eating disorders usually start in the teenage years and are more common in girls than boys. The number of young people who develop an eating disorder is small. Still, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can have serious consequences on their physical health and development.

I’m a young person – what help is available?

There is support available if you’re a young person and you’re concerned about your mental health. You may want to try the following things.

  • Talk to someone about your feelings with a parent, friend, or other trusted adult. The Mental Health Foundation has some ideas on opening up to a friend
  • Go to your GP. They can address any concerns you may have regarding your feelings, go over various forms of support with you, and direct you to more resources that may be able to help you.
  • Make contact with services and organisations that support those experiencing mental health problems.

You could text the if you need support. A trained volunteer will text with you to help you think through your feelings and signpost you to other support.

Mind ( has lots of information for young people about understanding your feelings, how to get help and support, what happens when you visit your GP, looking after yourself and more.

I’m worried about my child – what can I do?

The most important thing that parents or guardians can do to support their children is to listen to them and treat their emotions with respect. They may want a hug, help with something, or your help in making a change.

Negative emotions in children and teenagers usually pass. However, it’s a good idea to seek help if your child has been in distress for an extended period of time, if their emotions are preventing them from moving on with their lives, if their distress is interfering with the dynamics of the family, or if they are consistently acting in ways that are not typical for their age.

A teacher, school nurse, school counsellor, or educational psychologist may be able to assist your child if they are experiencing problems at school. If not, see your GP or a health visitor. If additional help is required for them, they can refer them. Different professionals often work together in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Most mental health support for children and young people is provided free by the NHS, your child’s school or your local council’s social services department.

Young Minds has a Parents’ Helpline (  you can call if you’re worried about a child up to the age of 25. They provide advice, emotional support and signposting to other services.

Ways to support a child or young person?

  • Be there to listen – Encourage your child to talk about their feelings by asking them on a regular basis and letting them know that you are always there to listen. You can get tips on Young Minds: How to talk to your child about mental health.
  • Stay involved in their life – Show interest in their life and what’s important to them. It not only helps them value who they are but also makes it easier for you to spot problems and support them.
  • Take what they say seriously – Listening to and valuing what they say makes them feel valued. Consider how to help them work through their emotions in constructive ways. Anna Freud Centre’s guide on ways to support children and young peoplehas more on this.
  • Support them through difficulties – Keep an eye on your child’s emotions and behaviour and make an effort to support them in overcoming difficulties. Although dealing with difficult behaviour may not always be simple, try to understand their feelings and the reasons behind it.
  • Encourage their interests – Encourage and assist your child in exploring their interests. Learning new things, being creative or energetic, and working in a team all develop relationships and improve mental health.
  • Build positive routines – Try to have structure around regular routines, especially around healthy eating and exercise. A good night’s sleep is also important, so have a fixed time for going to bed and getting up. The Sleep Charity has relaxation sleep tips for children.

What support is there?

  • Barnardo’s protects and supports the UK’s most vulnerable children. They provide a range of services to help and support children, young people, parents and carers.
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) runs a free, confidential helpline and webchat service offering help and advice to anyone feeling down or in need of support.
  • ChildLine is a free, confidential service where children can talk about any issue they’re going through. You can call their helpline or use their webchat to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • The Children’s Society supports children going through serious life challenges. They run services and campaigns to make children’s lives better.
  • Contact offers advice and support to families with disabled children. If you’re a parent caring for a disabled child, you can arrange to speak to an adviser for practical and emotional support.
  • Family Lives offers information and support on all aspects of family life, including the stages of child development, issues with schools, parenting support, bullying and mental health concerns.
  • Papyrus supports people under 35 who have thoughts of suicide and others who are concerned about them. You can contact them by phone, text or email.
  • Penumbra supports adults and young people in Scotland with mental health problems. They offer services that provide practical and emotional support.
  • You can text Shout on 85258 for confidential support by text.
  • The Mix offers free emotional support to people under 25 by phone, webchat or email. They also offer a short-term counselling service.
  • YoungMinds offers information and support to young people about their mental health and helps adults to support young people in their lives. If you’re a parent worried about a child’s mental health, you can call their helpline.

Our Mental Health Training courses are designed to give you the knowledge to recognise a suspected Mental Health condition and the skills to start a conversation and be able to signpost a person towards professional help.

If you would like to talk to us about Mental Health training in the workplace across the UK, please call us on 01276 586943 or email us at