Understanding children's mental health & emotional wellbeing

Understanding Mental Health

This section will help you:

  • Understand what mental health is
  • Learn more about what constitutes normal behaviour for students at different developmental stages
  • Identify symptoms of mental health problems
  • Learn when you should be concerned for a student’s wellbeing

Definitions of Good Mental Health

Many people, including children, hear the term “mental health” as meaning mental illness.  “I’m not mad” is a fairly common reaction.  Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental health problem. If you’re in good mental health, you can:

  •     Make the most of your potential
  •     Cope with life’s ups and downs and learn from mistakes
  •     Play a full part in your family, workplace, community and among friends

Good mental health can be described as our ability to fulfil a number of key functions and activities, appropriate to the age and stage we are at.  These can include:

  •     The ability to learn
  •     The ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions
  •     The ability to form and maintain good relationships with others
  •     The ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty

[Mental Health Foundation – http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/]

Children with good mental health have1:

  • a capacity to enter into and sustain mutually satisfying personal relationships
  • a continuing progression of psychological development
  • an ability to play and learn so that attainments are appropriate for age and intellectual level
  • a developing sense of right and wrong
  • a degree of psychological distress and maladaptive behaviour that is within normal limits for the child’s age and context.

Children who are mentally healthy have been defined as having the ability to2:

  • develop psychologically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually;
  • initiate, develop and sustain mutually satisfying personal relationships;
  • use and enjoy solitude;
  • become aware of others and empathise with them;
  • play and learn;
  • develop a sense of right and wrong; and
  • resolve (face) problems and setbacks and learn from them.

1. From: NHS Advisory Service (1995) review of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services: ‘Together We Stand’

2. From: H. Kay (1999) ‘Bright Futures, Promoting children and young people’s mental health’.