Prioritising mental health: why screening is essential for our children and young people

Mental health is an important aspect of overall wellbeing for individuals of all ages, including our children and young people. However, children’s mental health can often go unnoticed or undiagnosed, leading to long-term problems if left untreated. This is why it is important for practitioners and professionals who work with children to provide screening, at regular intervals, for mental health needs.

Mental health in children and young people in the UK is a growing concern. It is estimated that one in eight children and young people have a mental health condition, with conditions such as anxiety and depression being the most common.

Factors such as bullying, family breakdown, and societal pressures can contribute to the development of mental health issues in this population. Whilst the UK government has acknowledged the importance of addressing mental health in children and young people and has tried to start initiatives to try and improve access to support and services, it doesn’t make up for the systemic failures present for decades, meaning there is still a huge lack of funding and resources dedicated to this area, and many (most) children and young people are not receiving the help they need when they need it most, or even at all.

Addressing mental health issues in children and young people is of paramount importance.

Senior leaders have a crucial role to play in creating an environment that promotes positive mental health. This includes developing policies and procedures that support wellbeing (including mental health), providing professional development opportunities (NOT just one-off lunchtime training presentations!) and resources for staff, and leading a culture of openness and support for children, young people and staff who may be struggling with their mental health. By taking proactive steps to address mental health, senior leaders can help ensure that all children have the opportunity to thrive in life.

Early intervention can prevent the development of more serious mental health conditions. Many mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, have their onset in childhood and adolescence. Identifying these issues early on allows for timely treatment, which can improve the chances of recovery and prevent further deterioration of the child’s mental health.

Screening also allows professionals to identify and address any barriers to learning or development that a child may be experiencing. Children with untreated mental health concerns may struggle in school, have difficulty making friends, or have other issues that can impede their overall growth and development. By identifying these issues early on, professionals can work to remove these barriers and help the child reach their full potential.

Furthermore, mental health screening can help to break the stigma around mental health issues, particularly among children. Many people, including parents and other caregivers, may be hesitant to seek help for a child’s mental health concerns due to the perception that mental health issues are not as important as physical health issues. By routinely screening for mental health concerns, professionals can help to normalize the conversation around mental health and make it easier for families to seek help when needed.

Mental health screening for children is crucial for early intervention, addressing barriers to development, and breaking the stigma around mental health.

It is important for professionals who work with children, to make mental health screening a routine part of their practice.

By doing so, you can help to improve the wellbeing and futures of our children.

So, where should you begin?

There are a range of screening tools and outcome measures available for professionals to use.

You should start by selecting an assessment to complete for all the children and young people you work with, twice a year, to start to gain insight and measure their wellbeing over time.

Here is a list of measures relating to general mental health and wellbeing:

You can read my article on What is the SDQ? here.

When you get started, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • There is no ‘one size fits all’ – nor is there a universal guide. Adapting to the needs of the children and young people you are supporting is as essential as always.
  • No one measurement tool can provide insight into every area of wellbeing, so using further tools focusing on specific areas (such as Anxiety) can provide more in-depth and relevant insight.
  • Don’t work alone! Communication is key. There could be other providers who are already undertaking regular screening and/or outcome measures. A joint-up and coordinated response will be much more beneficial, particularly for our more at-risk children. Sharing this information as part of regular and effective multi-agency communication, again, can provide partner agencies with relevant and much-needed insight.

A world where every child and adult has access to the protection, support and resources to thrive in life.

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