Health is a core pillar of my work as Children’s Commissioner following ‘The Big Ask’, which was the largest-ever survey of children. Children told me how much they care about feeling happy and well, and that they want to be physically healthy.
The majority of children aged 9-17 (80%) told me that they were happy or okay with their mental health. But, 20% of children were unhappy, making it a top issue for children today. This figure is also higher amongst older teenage girls.
Importantly, children want their needs when they are feeling unhappy to be taken seriously; to have someone to talk to when they have a problem, and to be able to engage in an environment which suits them without having to wait until things get ‘bad enough’. As one child said: ‘All teachers… should have to go on mental health courses so they know what possible symptoms are and what they can do to help in the scenario that someone is showing them instead of just ignoring it’ Girl, 12.
Children also spoke about wanting good physical health, and younger children in particular spoke about wanting to live healthy lifestyles. A child said: ‘I think things that stop children from England from progressing is how much time they spend on their games, the amount of times you exercise so bad physical health… I think that a big thing that stops children is the food they eat which makes a big impact on physical health their breathing and their non-healthy eating can affect them’ Boy, 10.
Following the lessons of the pandemic, and the toll it took on young people’s wellbeing, this is a generation newly conscious of the artificial dichotomy between mental and physical health.
Now, as we emerge from this period, there is an opportunity to make sure we are prioritising children’s wellbeing in general, and, where it is needed most. That’s why my work will prioritise children’s health and wellbeing, with a focus on children getting the support if they need it, and being to access to the right care, in the right place, at the right time.