Children's Mental Health

Safeguarding Network

February 2024 - 5 minute read

Loved 4 times


Mental health is a subject that many of us find difficult to discuss, primarily because of a fear of saying the wrong thing and making matters worse. However, mental ill-health is a prevalent issue, with it being estimated that around 1-in-6 children will experience a form of mental ill-health at some point in their childhood. 

If you think about the place that you work in, this could mean that there are a lot of children and young people who may experience some form of difficulty around mental health, and research suggests this number is increasing. As with adults, the reasons behind a child’s mental ill-health can be varied, and whilst some children and young people do self-harm or contemplate taking their own lives, this is not the case for everyone.

It's important that we do not turn a blind eye and hope it all goes away. Stigma is a significant issue when suffering from mental ill-health. We must lead by example and ensure that when working with individuals or groups of children and young people we educate them about mental ill-health and how to help friends who may be experiencing problems. As per the title of our in-depth safeguarding insight on children and young people’s mental health, knowledge dispels fear (and therefore reduces stigma).

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Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. Mental health is a basic human right.

World Health Organisation

What helps good mental health?

For children to remain mentally well they need:

  • good physical health (including good diet and regular exercise);
  • to be able to explore and develop interests (through their environment, play and interaction with others);
  • to feel part of a family (feeling as though they belong, get along with others, are loved, valued and safe);
  • to be supported to learn, be optimistic and feel that they have a say;
  • to feel part of a community (e.g., school/nursery, etc.);
  • to be supported to cope when things do not go well;
  • to be supported to learn how to problem solve.


As with all situations, there are certain factors that may increase the risks of poor mental health:

What to do

  • Talk with the child or young person – talking is often key. It may be that the initial conversation is nothing to do with their mental health and instead is more general, but this will build trust and understanding.
  • Identify places where the child or young person can find appropriate support material to go over in their own time at their own pace.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle (e.g., good nutrition and taking exercise).
  • Help the child or young person understand what they are feeling – for example everyone has fears and worries about things and part of growing up is learning how to deal with these.
  • Get support for yourself – you don’t need to know all the answers, however, you do need to be sure that there is nothing further that can be done.

Starting difficult conversations

If you are worried about a young person, try to get them to talk to you. Often they will want to talk but will not speak until someone asks how they are.

  • As when dealing with disclosures, use open ended questions. For example: “Tell me about…”, “How do you feel about …” and “What happened about …”;
  • Repeat back what they say to show that you understand;
  • Do not try to solve the problem – that will come over time. Initially focus on their feelings – this can be of more help and show that you care;
  • Try to let them make their own decisions – they are more likely to stick to what they decide than to follow what they are told to do by someone else;
  • Be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to fix everything or dish out advice – let them lead the conversation and identify what they want to happen;
  • Remember you do not need to be an expert to be able to help;
  • Remember that everyone is different – an approach that worked with one young person may not work with another.

(adapted from the Samaritans advice page)

What about self harm and suicide?

The majority of children and young people do not get to a point where they are self-harming or considering taking their own life. For those that do it 's important that this is recognised and appropriate support is put in place. 

Contrary to common belief, self-harm is not attention seeking, often it is a coping mechanism to stop the young person finding that things are getting out of control – the Samaritans have a handout looking at common myths around self-harm. If a child or young person is expressing suicidal ideation then it is important that you get help and support immediately.

DSL Training Materials

  • Child Mental Health Scenario (Primary) – DSL Information Sheet

  • Child Mental Health Scenario (Care) – DSL Information Sheet

  • Child Mental Health Scenario – Care Settings

  • Child Mental Health Scenario (16+) – DSL Information Sheet

  • Child Mental Health Scenario – 16+ settings

  • Child Mental Health Scenario (SEND) – DSL Information Sheet

  • Child Mental Health Scenario – SEND settings

  • Child Mental Health Scenario (Secondary) – DSL Information Sheet

  • Child Mental Health scenario – Secondary Schools

  • Presentation

  • Child Mental Health Scenario – Primary Schools

  • Child Mental Health Scenario (Early Years) – DSL Information Sheet

  • Child Mental Health Scenario – Early Years Settings

  • Handout for staff

  • Child Mental Health – Quiz (Answer Sheet)

  • Child Mental Health – Quiz

  • Presenter Notes


  • Schools in Mind

  • Addressing School Avoidance

  • Uniquely Me: A Parent’s Guide to Building Body Confidence

  • Mental Health Support: Absolutely Not

  • Taking CARE To Promote Mental Health in Schools and Colleges

  • Building Suicide-Safer Schools and Colleges: A Guide for Teachers and Staff

  • Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing

  • Building suicide-safer schools and colleges

  • Social media, young people and mental health

  • Responding to critical incidents in educational communities

  • Mental health and behaviour in schools

  • The truth about self-harm: for young people and their friends and families

  • Mentally healthy schools

  • The Anna Freud Centre advice for parents and carers

  • We All Have Mental Health: Animation & Teacher Toolkit

  • Knowledge dispels fear – children and young people’s mental health

  • Anti-racism and mental health in schools

  • Trauma Bereavement

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