Children and Young People’s Mental Health: We’ve Raised Awareness, now we need to ensure All Children and Young People receive Support When, Where and how they need it

8 May 2017

Children and young people’s mental health is having its day in the sun and is now getting the attention it deserves. Prior to the election being called, the then Government prioritised children and young people’s mental health.  The young Royals publically talking about mental health has raised awareness in a way we could only have dreamt of 10 years ago. Back then the ‘M’ word wasn’t talked about, and there was disbelief that children and young people could even have mental health problems.  So on that score we have made enormous progress , but and it is a big but, we know that many children and young people are still finding it difficult to get easy access to mental health support when needed.

Whilst we have raised awareness, there is still a huge treatment gap. In other words we know that according to data from 2004, only about a quarter of the 1 in 10 children and young people who have a mental disorder are accessing support from mental health services.[i] We don’t necessarily know why they aren’t accessing mental health support and some may be accessing support through other agencies.

Children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, requires support from a wide spectrum of agencies and services such as NHS, social care, public health, education, youth justice and the voluntary sector.  This is why we refer to it as a whole systems approach.[ii]   We need this whole system to work well together in order to support children and young people.  Whilst local areas have local transformation plans and no doubt good will, we know that all of these sectors are facing funding pressures, so budgets are being stretched generally.   Children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing is such a small part of their wider agenda that it is often given a lower priority than it deserves and so seen as an easy target for cuts.   This would be bad enough, but these services have historically been underfunded, so they are starting from a low base and any cuts have a great impact.

We know that adult mental health problems often have their roots in childhood, and that 75% of adult mental health problems are present by age 24, and 50% by age 15.[iii] The findings from the Mental Health Foundation’[iv] study, have found that younger adults -18-34 year olds, are significantly more likely to say that they have experienced mental health problems.   It will be interesting to see whether the Children and Young People’s Mental Health survey, which covers 2-19 year olds, which is due to be published next year follows this trend.[v]  Currently there is some research that suggests that mental health problems have increased in young women[vi], and there is anecdotal evidence that there has been an increase in not just mental health problems, but also in the severity and complexity of these problems.

We don’t fully know why young people are experiencing such serious and complex mental health issues, but it is possible that it is linked to not having easy access to mental health support when first needed.  We know from research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and others, that additional funding for transforming the children and young people’s mental health system isn’t always getting through to frontline services.[vii]

Worryingly in the adult population, only 13% of adults are living with positive mental health.  We know that parental mental health can impact on their child.[viii]  If so many younger adults, many of whom will be parents/carers, are experiencing poor mental health, then it is possible that this, amongst a range of other risk factors, are impacting on children’s mental health. This is not to put the blame on parents/carers, but to highlight that services need to think about the whole family.

There are many reasons why we should be concerned about children and young people’s mental health.  We published our Manifesto to Improve Children and Young People’s Mental Health last week[ix], which highlights what we want the next Government to prioritise.  A key priority has to be working to prevent or intervene when problems first emerge, as it is clinically, economically and morally the right thing to do.  Longer-term, today’s young people will become the parents and the workforce of the future.  We want to see young people thriving, so they in turn can get their children off to the best start in life and reach their full potential, and be emotionally intelligent adults who form the workforce of the future and become the lynch pin of communities that care and thrive. 


[i] Green, H., et al. (2005) Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain 2004. London: Palgrave.

[iii] Davies, S. (2013) Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2012: our children deserve better.

London: Department of Health.

[iv] Mental Health Foundation (2017) Two in three adults face mental health problems.  

[viii] Mental Health Foundation (2017) Op Cit.

[ix] Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (2017) A Manifesto to Improve Children and Young People’s Mental Health.