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Emotional wellbeing and mental health

Positive emotional wellbeing and mental health is fundamental to all our lives and to the communities in which we live. It underpins everything that we do, how we think, feel, act and behave. It impacts on learning. Investing in children’s emotional wellbeing and mental health is as important as attending to their physical health as it underpins positive outcomes in childhood and successes in future adulthood.

The National Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Review in 2008 noted that:

“There are many different ways of describing and understanding mental health and psychological wellbeing. Children and young people use terms such as “feeling in control” or “feeling balanced.” These descriptions are useful, because they highlight the fact that mental health and psychological wellbeing are not about feeling happy all the time. They are about having the resilience, self-awareness, social skills and empathy required to form relationships, enjoy one’s own company and deal constructively with the setbacks that everyone faces from time to time.”

A ‘Mental Health Toolkit for Schools’ was launched in October, 2016. The toolkit aims to raise awareness amongst school and college staff of the range of validated tools that are available to help measure subjective mental wellbeing amongst the student population. This, in turn, will help school and college leaders make use of school and college level data to identify the mental wellbeing needs of students and determine how best to address these. Efforts taken by schools and colleges to promote the physical and mental health of the student population creates a virtuous circle, reinforcing attainment and achievement that in turn improves student wellbeing, enabling students to thrive and achieve their full potential.

It has been funded and developed by Public Health England and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.

The Department for Education has recently updated Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools (March 2015), which is particularly useful for schools.

The document cites the Mental Health Foundation’s (2002) ‘A bright future for all: promoting mental health in education’ description of children who are mentally healthy as having the ability to:

  • develop psychologically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually;
  • initiate, develop and sustain mutually satisfying personal relationships;
  • use and enjoy solitude;
  • become aware of others and empathise with them;
  • play and learn;
  • develop a sense of right and wrong; and
  • resolve (face) problems and setbacks and learn from them.

The DFE document also states that:

“School should be a safe and affirming place for children where they can develop a sense of belonging and feel able to trust and talk openly with adults about their problems.”

Annex C of the document provides a brief description for schools of the main types of mental health needs and summarises which approaches other professionals might use following diagnosis.

The relationship between emotional health and wellbeing and attainment are evidenced in a recent document by Public Health England .


The Education Endowment Foundation has produced a report into social and emotional learning in primary schools. The recommendations made will support schools to ensure that the way in which these skills are based reflect  best practice and encompass a whole school approach.

The Healthy London Partnership alongside the Greater London Authority have developed a mental health toolkit for schools. Within it, there are resources, guidance and signposting to support school leaders and staff, health care professionals and commissioners to promote emotional wellbeing and mental health within schools.

The PSHE Association has launched new Guidance for schools on preparing to teach about mental health and emotional wellbeing (link opens in new tab or page) This is now accompanied by lesson plans for key stages 1-4.

Many schools and settings are now considering creating their own Mental Health Policy (link opens in new tab or page). A framework and guidance on this has been developed by Pooky Knightsmith on behalf of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust (link opens in new tab or page).

The Anna Freud Centre has developed  the ‘Schools in Mind’ network for school staff and allied professionals which shares academic and clinical expertise regarding the wellbeing and mental health issues that affect schools.  The network provides a trusted source of up-to-date and accessible information and resources that school leaders, teachers and support staff can use to support the mental health and wellbeing of the children and young people in their care.

Rise Above  – Website from Public Health England for secondary aged young people where they can find inspiring and useful stories, videos, games and advice. It includes issues around drug and alcohol use, relationships and sex education, body image, exam stress, emotional health and wellbeing.

Useful websites and resources

This page contains links to information about a range of wellbeing measurement tools, organisations dedicated to specific conditions and training opportunities.