Understanding mental health in children and young people

16 May 2017

Written by Vicky Cockerill, Academic Lead in Mental Health, University of Derby Online Learning

As a parent or career what do we want for our children? Happiness, good health, a good education? All of these are important to us, but how often do we consider our children's mental health? Are we safe in assuming our children have good mental health? They have friends, a loving family and stability - surely they won't have a mental health issue will they?

Although factors such as a caring family and good friendships offer some level of resilience in mental health, these factors do not necessarily guarantee mental wellbeing. In a society where we are bombarded with materialistic commodities and idealistic images, the pressure for a young person to achieve or ‘fit in’ can feel immense. This combined with genetic factors predisposing individuals to mental ill health and those children who are not so lucky to have a loving family and supportive friendships can lead to difficulties in their mental wellbeing.

The realities of mental health issues in children and young people

It is estimated that 1 in 10 children in the U.K. experience some level of mental health issue. For instance, in a school of 500 primary school children, 50 will potentially experience a mental health issue. Furthermore, as you are reading this blog, around 290,000 children in the U.K. will experience the symptoms of anxiety and 80,000 children and young people will be suffering from depression (YoungMinds, 2016).

For many young people the experiences of mental ill health will continue into adulthood. Yet faced with a child with a mental health issue, would you know what to do or say? Could you identify that the child or young person has a mental health issue?

For many of us, spotting the signs of mental health problems early on is difficult, because the changes can be subtle however, if mental health problems can be identified early they can be treated much more effectively. In fact, the best way to treat a mental health disorder is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Naturally this isn’t always possible, though for many cases it is and helping a young person stay well should be our ultimate goal.

Building stronger foundations

For young people it is so important that they develop their resilience in life and there are some simple ways to help build up that resilience. For example, being active and participating in group sports is a fantastic way of beginning that process. Equally talking and being aware of their thoughts can also help them to recognise when they are feeling low or upset, and encouraging them to talk openly about how they feel instead of keeping things inside. Children and young people face a lot of pressure to succeed so helping them to understand and recognise that it is okay to fail or to be different is also great for building resilience in life.

Support and intervention to help maintain mental wellbeing in young people does not have to be complicated or expensive, spending time playing games and talking are brilliant ways to support mental wellbeing, as are social activity groups such as scouts or brownies.

Ensuring the mental health in our future generations is vitally important. Being able to support and help a child or young person to maintain their mental wellbeing is an invaluable skill for any parent or carer.

If you would like to find out more about child and adolescent mental health, our CPD course might be of interest.

Find out more about our Child and Adolescent Mental Health CPD course


YoungMinds (2016). Mental health statistics. [Online]. Available at (Accessed: 16 June 2016).