Understanding children's mental health & emotional wellbeing

Mental illness in childhood

Why should we care?

Mental health problems in children are associated with many varied features including educational failure, family disruption, disability, offending and antisocial behaviour, placing demands on social services, schools and the youth justice system. Untreated mental health problems create distress not only in the children and young people themselves but also for their families and carers as well as fellow pupils and school staff3.

Without help, mental health problems can also lead to alcohol or other drug abuse, family discord, violence or even suicide.   Untreated at an early enough stage, these mental health problems in childhood potentially lead to mental illness in later life.  Recognition at an early stage is a crucial key to effective support and prevention of longer-term mental health problems.

The exact cause of most mental illness is not known, but research suggests that a combination of factors, including heredity, biology, psychological trauma and environmental stress, may be involved.  There is still much work to be done in understanding the needs and effects of these factors on children and young people’s mental health and well being.

3. National Service Framework for Children, Young people and Maternity Services (DH, DfES 2004)

Prevalance of mental illness in childhood

About 10% of children in the UK aged 5-16 suffer from a clinically diagnosed mental illness, according to figures from the mental health charity Mind and The Office for National Statistics.

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(Mental Disorder More Common In Boys, National Statistics Online, 2004)