Over half of primary school children have emotional health issues, new survey suggests

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on May 14, 2024

Over half of primary school children have emotional health issues, new survey suggests

A new app aiming to help parents support children with mental health is undergoing clinical trials, as research suggests over half of primary school children have emotional health issues

New research released in time for Mental Health Awareness Week reveals that parents are concerned about their children’s emotional health. The survey of over 1,000 parents by the Embers the Dragon app, a new app designed to build emotional resilience in children and their families, revealed that 69% of parents said that their child has emotional challenges such as identifying or defining their feelings, communicating how they feel, or managing their feelings in unfamiliar situations.

Amongst the main emotional health issues parents reported being concerned about included anxiety (46%), neurodevelopmental conditions (32%), and low mood (29%).

Children’s mental health in England

One in five children and young people in England aged eight to 25 had a probable mental disorder in 2023, according to The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2023 Report published by NHS England.

The Children’s Mental Health Services 2022-23 report released by the Children’s Commissioner for England revealed that over a quarter of a million children and young people (270,300) are still waiting for support after referral to Child and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS), also known as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Around 8% (949,200) of children in England were referred to CAMHS during this period. It was revealed that just 32% of children and young people referred to mental health services received support, while 28% continued to wait, and 39% had their referral closed before accessing support.

With waiting times for mental health support varying significantly, children and young people wait an average of 35 days for support. However, over 40,000 children in England have experienced a wait of over two years.

It is no wonder that parents are concerned for their children’s mental and emotional health and wellbeing. When poor mental health is left without treatment or support, it can lead to developing unhealthy coping mechanisms, poorer mental health, and the development of other mental illnesses.

App seeks to help families build emotional resilience

A new app, Embers the Dragon, has been designed to help children and parents build emotional resilience. It is currently undergoing a major clinical trial by the School of Applied Sciences at London South Bank University.

Daniel Frings, Professor of Social Psychology at London South Bank University, commented: “We are seeing rises in identified mental health needs in children and the current provision is woefully inadequate. It is our hope that identifying any barriers to access or usage can help develop a more effective way to reach all groups, especially those in greater need. There is much-needed scientific evidence for the effectiveness of digital technologies for the growing number of children needing wellbeing support, however, with widespread use of digital, this could be an effective solution to reach large numbers of children and their families with everyday emotional support.”

The app, Embers the Dragon, was created in collaboration between clinicians, storytellers and educators. Funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the app features narration by Jo Brand, with celebrities voicing the animated characters including Penelope Wilton, Nigel Clarke, and Zoe Wanamaker.

Emma Taylor, Mental Health NHS Nurse Specialist and Co-Founder of Embers said: “Understanding and supporting children's emotional development can be a complex and challenging task for parents and caregivers. There is a need for accessible and clinically endorsed support, especially in the digital age, to help parents navigate these challenges and foster healthy emotional development in children from a young age.

“That’s why programmes like Embers the Dragon, a proactive approach to preventing issues and alleviating pressure on health services through clinically-backed mental health support, has the potential to improve child behaviour, confidence, and academic potential and in turn reduce the need for clinical mental health interventions among young children.”

Parents and caregivers with a child aged four to seven, as well as educators and clinicians, can register for the trial or find out more at Embers the Dragon.

Supporting your child’s emotional and mental health

Helping support children’s mental health and wellbeing can be tough. Creating a safe space where they feel that can talk about how they are feeling can be a great first step. Encouraging them to develop better emotional resilience can be a huge help in helping them develop better coping skills, better manage their emotions, and learn how to cope with life’s challenges.

Counselling Directory member and Counsellor Paul Moulder, Dip Psy. C. MNCPS (Accred), explains more about how we can help young people to cultivate emotional resilience and help teach coping skills.

“In today’s fast-paced world, children are facing increasing levels of stress, anxiety and emotional challenges. It is crucial to equip them with effective coping skills to navigate these difficulties and build emotional resilience. By equipping them with effective strategies, we can help foster healthy emotional development and promote lifelong wellbeing.”

Working with a counsellor or therapist can be another way to help children and young people have the opportunity to speak to someone and express themselves without fear of judgement.

Counsellor Izzy Sturgess explains more about counselling for children

Counselling can help children learn how to cope with everyday worries, find new strategies for managing stress, and support with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

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