Protecting mental health at an early age is vitally important to ensure future mental wellbeing and resilience. Improving the mental health and wellbeing of the population is recognised as having a positive effect on many different aspects of society.

Socio-economic factors have a significant impact on children and young people’s mental health. We must consider the context of their families, homes and communities.

Making Scotland the best place for children to live and grow up is an ambition shared across the whole nation. All sectors play a vital part in supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. It is not just the responsibility of specialist services.

  • Up to 1 in 5 women experience difficulties with their mental health in the perinatal period, only 50% receive treatment. The consequence of not receiving treatment can have long lasting impact on children.
  • The majority of mental health problems will develop before age 24 with 50% of mental health difficulties established by age 14.
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been found to have a lifelong impact on mental health.
  • Children born into poverty are more likely to experience mental health problems.
  • Education is important for wellbeing and can impact on many outcomes in life such as mental health.

Children and young people’s mental health inequalities

Improving children and young people’s mental health should be seen within the wider context of tackling societal inequalities. There are factors that make a child or young person more vulnerable to experiencing difficulties with their mental health, including

  • having a chronic health problem
  • living in poverty
  • identifying as LGBTQ+
  • having a learning disability
  • involvement with the criminal justice system
  • being looked after and accommodated
  • having refugee status
  • experiencing homelessness
  • having a parent with mental health difficulties
  • adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • experiencing domestic and sexual abuse.

National actions

Scotland’s Mental Health Strategy

The Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy takes an early intervention and preventative approach in both age and stage.

The strategy states the importance of early intervention in mental health from pre-birth through to young adulthood. Examples include the Scottish Government funding a Managed Clinical Network to improve the recognition and treatment of perinatal mental health problems. There are also actions relating to the support of children and young people in education settings.

Children and Young People's Mental Health Taskforce 

An independent task force was jointly commissioned by the Scottish Government and The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA). It provides recommendations and advice to support the redesign and rapid expansion of the service response to mental health problems from birth to 25 years.

The Taskforce recommendations recognise the need to prioritise preventative approaches to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

You can also read our response to the Taskforce's recommendations.

Children and young people’s mental health across all policies

Protecting a child’s mental health and wellbeing via policy or legislation is far reaching. Direct and indirect work can significantly benefit various aspects of a child’s life and this contributes to improving their mental health and wellbeing.

The policy map below illustrates how children’s mental wellbeing cuts across a wide range of policy and legislation.

Mental health and Rights of the Child

The Scottish Government respects and protects the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (external website). These rights state that children and young people must grow up loved, safe and respected to reach their full potential. Fulfilling children’s rights is fundamental to protecting and improving children’s mental health and wellbeing.

National support for children and young people's mental health

Education Scotland have developed practices and approaches to support, improve and track mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in education settings. The Compassionate and Connected Classroom (external website) aims to improve understanding and support of children and young people who have suffered adversity and trauma.

NHS Education Scotland (NES) have produced a series of trauma-informed resources (external website) for people who work with children and young people. It supports staff to understand the impact of trauma and encourages changes to working practices.

Local actions

Work at a local level can help protect and improve children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. You can find links below to resources and examples of best practice across a range of topics, including

Find out more

Contact the Mental Health team for more information on improving and protecting children and young people's mental health and wellbeing.