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Children's Health and Wellbeing


Mental health and emotional issues often develop during adolescence. Half of young adults with mental health issues have symptoms by the age of 15, and nearly 75% by their late teens. For those aged 5-19 years, suicide is the second most common cause of death (ONS, 2015).

Social media peer pressure, bullying, family units breaking down and an increased number of children in the care system have all been suggested as contributing factors to the rise in mental health issues in younger people. Many of these issues affecting mental wellbeing are multiple and often remain undetected and untreated unless agencies such as schools take an active role (Partnership for Wellbeing and Mental Health in Schools, 2015).

Despite the focus in recent years, some young people still do not get the support and care they need. This can happen because there is a stigma associated with mental ill health.

Young people may be reluctant to seek professional help or discuss mental health with friends and family because of their concerns about what others will think. Young people may lack the insight to realise that they need help or that help is available. Some mental health issues can cloud clear thinking and decision making. A young person experiencing such issues may not realise that they need help, that effective help is available, or may be so distressed that they are unable to think clearly about what they should do.

GPs, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals can all help young people experiencing mental health issues. However, just as with accidents and other medical emergencies, such assistance is not always immediately available when an issue first arises.

This is when key figures in the young person’s life, such as parents, teachers, tutors, carers, and youth workers, can offer aid and guide them towards the appropriate professional support. Although once seen as an optional extra, it has become clear that work in schools to promote mental health and wellbeing is central to overall effectiveness and should be prioritised.

Recent evidence from Public Health England confirms that:

  • Children with greater wellbeing and lower levels of mental health issues achieve higher grades, better examination results, better attendance, and drop out less frequently
  • Academic achievement is more accurately predicted by social and emotional skills than by IQ
  • The quality of PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) in a school is strongly correlated with the school’s overall effectiveness As mental health becomes an increasingly recognised concern, the most recent Ofsted inspection framework includes a new judgement on “personal development, behaviour and welfare”

Anxiety in Children

Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat. Obviously, these two states overlap, but they also differ, with fear more often associated with surges of autonomic arousal necessary for fight or flight, thoughts of immediate danger, and escape behaviors, and anxiety more often associated with muscle tension and vigilance in preparation for future danger and cautious or avoidant behaviors. (APA 2013)

  • Anxiety disorders in children and young people are common and can have a significant impact on mental health and well-being. Anxiety disorders can affect family, school and social life, leisure activities and educational achievement and they often occur alongside other mental health problems. They are particularly prevalent in children with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.
  • There are seven main anxiety disorders, including phobiaspanic disorderseparation anxiety disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.
  • Children and young people with an anxiety disorder may be tired and irritable, have problems sleeping and find it hard to concentrate. Anxiety may also show itself as physical symptoms such as headache and muscle tension, or as dysregulated behaviour including tantrums, crying and ‘freezing’ with fear.
  • There is no single cause of anxiety disorders, but instead multifactorial risk factors, such as family history, adverse life events and parenting behaviours.
  • The main treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is effective in children and young people. It can be delivered in various ways, including as parent-guided therapy, computer based programmes and face to face sessions. Medication can also be used, but is not routinely prescribed.

Anxiety disorders in children and young people are very common, and are often associated with long-term mental health problems which persist into adulthood (Creswell et al, 2014). Anxiety is a part of life for everyone and some anxiety is essential because it helps us to act to protect ourselves and ensure our safety. However, anxiety can become overwhelming, and the symptoms that arise as a result can persist long after the anxiety provoking situation has ended. When this happens, it can cause distress and have a significant impact on the mental health of children and young people.

Anxiety disorders are characterised by excessive fear, anxiety and worry about events or activities and this happens more often than not for a child and continues for at least six months (APA 2013). The anxiety or worry, or physical symptoms that arise as a result, can cause significant distress to a child or young person and affect their quality of life and ability to function day to day (APA 2013).

Children and young people with a generalised anxiety disorder can feel restless and on edge much of the time. They may be tired and irritable, have problems sleeping, find it hard to concentrate and be unable to control of deal effectively with their worries (APA 2013). In young children the anxiety may be more likely to show itself as physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, headache or stomach ache (James 2015).  Angry outbursts, tantrums, crying and ‘freezing’ with fear are also common symptoms in children.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists seven anxiety disorders (APA, 2013):

  • Separation anxiety disorder. This is an inappropriate and extreme anxiety about being separated from home or from a major attachment figure (such as a parent), which causes significant distress to a child (Evans 2012). Children can become reluctant to take part in activities that mean they must be separated from a key attachment figure and this can affect their attendance at school (Evans 2012).
  • Selective mutism. This is when a child consistently fails to speak in situations in which they are expected to speak, such as at school (APA 2013). Selective mutism isn’t a communication disorder and it’s also not the child being uncomfortable with speaking in those situations, or not knowing what to say (APA 2013).
  • Specific phobia. This is an extreme or unreasonable feeling of fear or anxiety linked to a specific animal, object, activity, or situation (Evans 2012). This fear causes extreme distress and can stop children taking part in normal day to day activities (Evans 2012).
  • Social phobia. This is a persistent fear of social or performance situations with unfamiliar people, where a child or young person feels like they are being scrutinised (APA 2013). Children can worry that they will act in a way that is embarrassing and humiliating, and this can lead to a panic attack (APA 2013). Children will either avoid the situations that cause this distress, or will take part in them but with intense anxiety and distress (APA 2013).
  • Panic disorder. This often starts in older children and young adults (Evans 2012). It’s the repeated fear of impending doom or danger which develops after unprovoked physical symptoms, such as rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, choking sensations, and sweating (Evans 2012).
  • This is fear or severe anxiety about multiple situations in which escape might be difficult or panic-like symptoms might develop (Cornacchio et al, 2015). If it’s not treated, agoraphobia can lead to more serious mental health problems such as depression, substance misuse, and lead to suicide (Cornacchio et al, 2015).
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. This is excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation) about several events or activities (such as work or school performance) (APA, 2013).

Useful links for families and carers.  

Anxiety UK 08444 775774 www.anxiety.org.uk

No panic 0844 967 4848 www.nopanic.org.uk

OCD Action 0845 390 6232 www.ocdaction.org.uk

OCD-UK www.ocduk.org.uk

CBT Online www.getselfhelp.co.uk


Useful links for families and carers.  

Mind - 0300 123 3393 www.mind.org.uk

Youngminds 08088 025544 www.youngminds.org.uk

Childline 0800 1111 www.childine.org.uk

The Mix 0808 808 4994 www.themix.org.uk

Students Against Depression www.studentsagainstdepression.org

Youthhealthtalk! www.healthtalk.org

Eating Disorders

Useful links for families and carers.  

Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC) 03000 111213 www.anoerxiabulimiacre.org.uk

Boy Anorexia www.boyanorexia.com

Student Minds www.studentminds.org.uk

Men Get Eating Disorders Too www.mengetedstoo.co.uk

NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) www.nice.org.uk

beat (beating eating disorders) 0808 801 0711 www.b-eat.co.uk


We were interested to learn from a Co-op Funeral Service survey that 'most Britons will suffer their first loss of a loved one by the time they are 21-years-old'. The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) estimate that around one in 29 school-age children have been bereaved of a parent or sibling – that’s roughly one per class.

Learning about loss, is an article on the website of the National Children's Bureau helping schools to think about how they can tackle dying and bereavement within their curriculum. The resources below will help you deal with these issues.

Learning about Loss (National Children's Bureau)

Managing a sudden death in the school community (LGfL)

Responding to a death that is suspected to be a suicide (Samaritans)

Talking about death with your little one (CBeebies)

How to support a bereaved child (Video, Child Bereavement UK)

What helps grieving children and young people (pdf)

Books for younger children
Frog and the Birdsong by Max Velthuijs (Picture Book)
Benny’s Hat by Juliet Clare Bell and Dave Gray (Picture Book)
Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley (Picture Book)
Top 10 children's books on death and bereavement (Guardian)

Books for teenagers about death and grief (Marie Curie)

St Albans and District Bereavement Network have listed many available resources in this pdf, which includes links for death after suicide, murder, road accidents and the loss of a baby:

Explaining Bereavement to children with autism (National Autistic Society)

Websites and Charities

Child Bereavement UK: https://childbereavementuk.org
Child Bereavement Network: http://www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk/
Marie Curie: https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/
Winston’s Wish: https://www.winstonswish.org/

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