"[Mental health] is such a taboo subject, I […] don’t know how to get help, simply because it’s so hard to bring up. I’ve spoken to other people in person and online about this, and a lot of them feel the same way" - Girl, 14

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.

A Head Start: Early support for children’s mental health

A Head Start: Early support for children’s mental health’, sets out my vision for children’s mental health. It is founded on the views and voices of children and young people, and is our formal submission to the Government’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan. Consultation on improving children’s care. Based on these views, this report also sets out my vision for how children can be supported to promote good mental wellbeing, and get the help they need when problems emerge, every time.  

Children’s mental health services

Using my unique data gathering abilities I mapped the country’s spending on children’s mental health, referral rates and waiting times and have published findings looking at children’s mental health and their access to care. My office found:

  • Referrals to specialist NHS mental health services dropped for the first time in 4 years during the pandemic.
  • More children are struggling with their mental health, up from 1 in 9 to 1 in 6 (1 in 9 figure comes from 2017, to 1 in 6 now).
  • Spending on NHS children’s mental health services has increased for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Over 50% of CCGs are spending at least 1% of total budget on children’s mental health. The 1% figure is the target the NHS set to be allocated to children’s mental health spend in the NHS Long Term Plan. It is welcome now that spending is increasing, and more CCGs are spending the allotted 1% budget on children’s mental health services.

Ultimately, we have more children who want support with their mental health. Now we need to absolutely prioritise children’s mental health and make sure every child is getting the support they need.

Let's talk about your feelings flyers for children

In The Big Ask I heard from half a million children and young people across England and a lot of them said that they were worried about their mental health. These short flyers for primary school pupils and secondary school students can help children to talk about their feelings and find out how to get support if needed:

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