Understanding children’s mental health rights in the UK

The growing issue of children’s mental health and wellbeing has become a pressing issue in the UK. 1 in 6 children aged 5 to 16 are struggling with a mental health problem.

However, mental health is still a largely stigmatised and misunderstood aspect of our society. Without proper education and mental health awareness, the issue cannot be improved.

Shawmind is an early intervention charity working towards educating young minds and young adults alike on mental health and emotional wellbeing, and how to manage them effectively.

If you’re a child, guardian, parent, teacher or anyone who works with children, and are wanting to gain an insight into the rights children have surrounding mental health, this article is a starting point on what you need to know.

What is mental health?

To understand how to manage mental health, it is important to understand what it means and what it encompasses. Mental health refers to an individual’s psychological well being, from behaviours, emotions and thoughts.

Mental health can impact how an individual perceives others and how an individual interacts with them. It also encompasses self perception and how a person views the world around them.

Mental health can also impact physical health. Stress hormones can have a physiological impact on our bodies. Poor mental health can lead to feelings of demotivation and low self esteem, which can lead to poor physical health choices. If left untreated for too long, poor mental health can lead to mental health disorders which can be more complicated to treat.

What are children’s mental health acts and rights in the UK?

The current legislation around rights and mental health in the UK sets out that children should not be discriminated against due to a mental health condition nor should they suffer abuse (either mental abuse or physical abuse that can lead to mental health conditions in the future).

Existing legislation also ensures that relevant parties are responsible for all elements of a child’s welfare and that official procedures are in place to assess and treat children with mental health conditions.

From September 2020, education around mental health was also made compulsory in schools, after a campaign spearheaded by Shawmind, then “The Shaw Mind Foundation”, in 2017.

Some current legislations that support children’s mental health are:

Schools (Mental Health and Wellbeing) Bill 2020: Amends the Education Act 2002 and the Academies Act 2010 to provide for schools to promote the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils.

Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 in England and Wales: Covers the rights of anyone regarding mental health, including young people under the age of 18.

Mental Health Act 2007: This act is an updated version of the 1983 act, making room for more safeguarding measures for children,

Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986: This is the main legislation for mental health of young persons under 18 in Northern Ireland.

Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003: This legislation gives rights to people of all ages with a mental health condition and the wellbeing of children.

Mental Health (Scotland) Act 2015: This legislation is an amended version of the 2003 act.

Some other acts to consider are:

  • The Human Rights Act
  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • The Children Act
  • The Education Act

What mental health services are available in the UK?

The main service for children and young people’s mental health is CYPMHS, commonly known as CAMHS ( children and adolescent mental health services). This consists of a variety of specialists that work together within the NHS system. The systems in place can different depending on the region and the local authority.

  • Children’s mental health specialists include:
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Schools and/or colleges
  • Psychologists
  • Children’s wellbeing practitioners
  • Specialist substance misuse workers
  • Occupational therapists
  • Psychological therapists
  • Education mental health therapists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Primary mental health workers

Due to the mental health crisis in children and your adults in the UK currently, the NHS has a long referral waitlist. This means that many young people can go long periods of time with poor mental health without proper support, or their parents are forced to pay for private therapy.

There are free mental health and wellbeing services in all areas of the country. Some of these services are:

  • Childline: A children and young people’s wellbeing and welfare charity. They work with anyone under the age of 19.
  • NSPCC: A charity that works in many aspects of children’s wellbeing and welfare. This includes working with families, schools and local councils to protect children from abuse.
  • Shawmind: An early intervention charity working towards educating children, young people, carers, parents and teachers about mental health through its Headucation programme.

What more can be done to improve children’s mental health in the UK?

Shawmind is an early intervention charity. This means we aim to educate young people about mental health. We aim to reduce the impact of mental health on children in the long term by reducing the number of young people in need of intense clinical support, this can take the weight off the NHS and other mental health support systems.

Early intervention reduces the impact of mental health on children in the long term and reduces the number of young people in need of intense clinical support. It can enable professional services like CAMHS to provide fast and efficient support for those who need it.

Because mental health education isn’t legally required, many schools have to pay to educate their staff and students about mental health. Our Headucation campaign is educating teachers in UK schools about mental health to equip them with the skills to support their students’ mental health.
This includes knowing the factors that put children at risk of developing poor mental health, the signs a child is struggling with mental health and resources to use when having conversations with children about mental health.
These services require funding. As a charity, we rely on donations to make sure we can provide children and young people with the mental health facilities they need to lead happy and productive lives.

We need to do more to protect children’s mental health. Help us raise funds by donating to our fundraiser, buying a product from our store or signing up for one of our mental health training courses – all proceeds will go to Headucation.

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