24 Apr 2008

UK Failing To Meet Children's Mental Health and Well-Being Needs

24 April 2008

A public opinion poll published by The Children’s Society, as part of its ongoing Good Childhood® Inquiry, reveals mounting concern about children’s mental health and well being. When asked to rate children’s happiness today compared to when they were growing up, only one in ten (9%) respondents felt children nowadays are happier.

The Children’s Society commissioned the GfK NOP poll to complement the launch of a summary of the evidence submitted to the inquiry on its fifth theme - children’s health. Professionals and members of the public submitted evidence on a variety of health concerns but a large number of responses highlighted an issue barely acknowledged by past generations: children’s mental health and well being.

Adults’ concerns echo what children themselves have told The Good Childhood Inquiry. In a survey of 8,000 14-16 year olds, carried out by The Children’s Society as part of the inquiry, 27% of young people agreed with the statement ‘I often feel depressed’ (1). In a separate online vote, conducted by CBBC Newsround for the inquiry, 78% of those who voted said they felt fine, good or really good about their health; however a worrying 22% felt bad or really bad (2). Many also said they felt under pressure to look good, with seven out of ten admitting they dieted some or all of the time (3).

A number of children submitting evidence commented on the importance of being free from stress, pressure and worry. In some cases they explicitly linked pressure to school, the influence of peers, bullying, family expectations and their looks (4). Interestingly when asked what has the most negative impact on children’s well-being generally, adults responding to the GfK NOP poll rated family breakdown and conflict (29%) and peer pressure (23%) highly.

Considering the issue of how to promote better mental health and well being for children, Professor Stephen Scott, Institute of Psychiatry and an inquiry panel member said: “Many respondents to the inquiry shared the belief that well being depends on good relationships, especially within the family; on a sense of purpose and on freedom.

“To achieve this, child mental health and well being must be everybody’s business. Support for parents is crucial; schooling has a key part to play; and providing the effective treatments now available for children with mental health problems takes time, skill and resources.”

Many of the submissions expressed concern about the impact that poverty and social disadvantage has on mental health and well being. Refugee children, children in trouble with the law, children with disabilities and children at risk on the streets, with whom The Children’s Society works on a daily basis, are among those most affected by these issues (5).

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society said: “There is a growing recognition of the true cost of neglecting children’s mental health and well being. Too often mental health and well being have been dismissed as being of little importance but there is now an understanding that if we want to give children a better childhood these matters must be addressed. We now need to translate this growing concern into action and investment in the necessary support services.”

Concern about children’s mental health and well being comes amidst on-going anxiety about children’s health more generally. Two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed in the GfK NOP poll said the increase in indoor activities, such as computer games and television watching, prevents children nowadays from being more active, while 88 % agreed children need more education about healthy diets. There was an overwhelming consensus among respondents that physical health plays a crucial role in mental health, with 95 % agreeing to some extent that physical activities are an important element in promoting mental health.

The Children’s Society has already released evidence summaries on the inquiry’s first four themes: friends, family, learning and lifestyle. The inquiry will meet this summer to discuss the remaining theme of values before publishing its final report in early 2009.

The public can contribute to The Good Childhood Inquiry by logging on to
www.hundredsandthousands.org.uk and sharing their childhood memories.

The evidence summaries and GFK NOP poll results for health and the previous themes of family, friends, learning and lifestyle are available at http://www.goodchildhood.org/.

Notes to Editors:

Media Enquiries; For more information or to arrange interviews please contact: The Children’s Society’s Media Team, Tel: 020 7841 4422, Email: zjm@childsoc.org.uk, mobile: 07810 796508.

  • Good Childhood: what you told us about health, a summary of the health evidence submitted to The Good Childhood Inquiry can be downloaded from www.goodchildhood.org.uk
  • The Reflections on Childhood – health poll was conducted by GfK NOP who carried out a total of 1,176 telephone interviews with a sample of UK adults aged 18 or over. Fieldwork took place from 7 January to 28 January 2008. The data was weighted to ensure it was representative of the UK population. A summary of the findings can be downloaded from www.goodchildhood.org.uk
  • The Good Childhood Inquiry – the UK’s first independent national inquiry into childhood – is managed by The Children’s Society. The inquiry’s final report and recommendations will be published in early 2009.
  • The Children's Society is driven by the belief that every child deserves a good childhood. It provides vital help and understanding for those forgotten children who face the greatest danger, discrimination or disadvantage; children who are unable to find the support they need anywhere else. Visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk.

(1) Good Childhood? A question for our times. The Children’s Society’s National Survey of 8,000 14 to 16 year olds conducted in 2005
(2) 462 children and young people responded to a question on health on the CBBC Newsround website and my life website
(3) 664 children and young people responded to a question on health on the CBBC Newsround website and my life website
(4) 742 children and young people responded to The Good Childhood Inquiry’s call for evidence
(5) BMA Board of Science (2006) Child and adolescent mental health. A guide for healthcare professionals. London: BMA