Research shows that 1 in 5 children and young people have a probable mental health condition, which for many, will continue into adulthood. Tragically, children and young people with mental health difficulties go an average of 10 years between becoming unwell and getting help.

The global pandemic introduced a host of stressors for young people, ranging from disrupted routines and economic hardships, to isolation from friends and extended screen time. And while young people have adjusted to post-pandemic life, there remains huge uncertainty about the future, with concerns around school exams, climate change, and pressures around social media and body image — amongst many other things — fuelling an alarming surge in mental health issues among children.

A YouGov survey of 1,045 children, aged 8-16, found that in the last three months, exams and schoolwork have been the biggest worries for children in both primary and secondary schools in England, Scotland and Wales. Nearly two-thirds of secondary school children surveyed (60%) said they were worried about exams and school work, while 45% were worried about their physical appearance. 42% have felt worried about climate change and the environment.

Studies indicate that the prevalence of anxiety and depression rates among children has nearly doubled since the onset of the pandemic. And with around 50% of people with mental health problems experiencing symptoms by age 14, it’s clear that early intervention is critical to help support young people in dealing with these pressures.

Place2Be, a charity that provides mental health support for children in schools across the UK, offers resources for teachers and families to help support children and young people with their mental health.

In an interview with Sarah Baldwin, Place2Be’s Communications Consultant, she explains that early intervention is crucial, and supporting children in regulating and normalising their feelings, to help build resilience, needs to start from primary school age.

One of the most important things parents and carers can do to support children is to take time to listen and connect with their young people, says Sarah. Quality conversations and moments of connection can be just a few minutes of our day, when we’re doing other things; often it’s helpful when the pressure is off. 

Identifying when there’s a problem

Part of the challenge for parents and carers is knowing when there are issues with their children’s mental health, which can be hard when children internalise their emotions.

Observing how young people are reacting to things in day-to-day life, and looking out for significant changes in patterns of behaviour, is one way to identify issues that might be building beneath the surface. 

“If you notice an ongoing trend — perhaps where your child is very concerned about going to school every day, hasn’t been sleeping for a long time; or is exhibiting changes in behaviour and mood that isn’t shifting, it’s time to look at what else you can do,” says Sarah, “whether that’s speaking to a teacher, someone in your network or family, or escalating to a GP.”

Misconceptions still exist around mental health, especially in terms of who’s most commonly affected, she says. “A common misconception is that mental health is dependent on upbringing or family, or postcode, and we know that’s not the case.”

“We know that deprivation plays a role in escalating numbers of children with severe mental health, but it generally affects everybody.”

Several UK charities have mobilised to address the mental health crisis affecting children through awareness campaigns, improving access to resources, providing different forms of support, and calling on the government for more investment in children’s mental health.

Mental Health UK offers advice and information on young people’s mental health to parents and carers, as well as delivering Bloom and Your Resilience, two young people’s programmes developed to help equip 14 to 18 year olds with the tools and knowledge to support their own mental health.

YoungMinds’ ‘Fund the Hubs’ campaign, supported by celebrities and ambassadors, is urging the UK government to fund more mental health ‘early support hubs’ throughout the UK, while also offering a wealth of resources for parents and carers, including toolkits and webinars on building positive mental health.

As part of Children’s Mental Health Week (Feb 5-11), Place2Be is promoting a campaign to empower young people to use their voices. Research shows that children and young people who feel that their voices are heard have higher levels of self-efficacy and self-esteem. The charity’s new campaign ‘My Voice Matters’ encourages children to share what matters to them.

Alongside the campaign, the charity’s ‘Parenting Smart’ initiative provides resources on the Place2Be website, offering advice for parents on building a resilient child, listening skills, healthy parenting habits, and more.

Explore more on children’s health in our upcoming programme Prioritising Children’s Health.

Our children, in the last few years alone, have grown up amid a global pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis, placing families under pressure. With delays in diagnosis at an all-time high, access to affordable nutritious food limited and mental health on the increase, children’s health needs to become top of the agenda.

To highlight the health and wellbeing of the next generation, and showcase how we can enable them to flourish, ITN Business are producing a news-style programme, ‘Prioritising Children’s Health.

Launching early September 2024, in line with children returning to school after the summer break, the programme will explore the solutions aiding children’s health, providing them with the best possible start in life.