Policy briefing

Interventions to improve the mental health and well-being of children and young people

Public Health England’s guidance focuses on the importance of promoting young people’s mental well-being

Public Health England’s guidance focuses on the importance of promoting young people’s mental well-being

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Essential information

With 50% of mental health problems being established by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24, promoting, protecting and improving the mental health and well-being of children and young people are of critical importance, according to Public Health England (PHE). Government policies, research and data highlight the scale of the need, as well as opportunities to respond in transforming mental health services. 

It is also known that children and young people with mental health problems are more likely to have negative life experiences early on, which can damage their life chances as they grow towards adulthood. 

What’s new?

Promising universal interventions to improve the mental health of children and young people have been listed by PHE following a review of evidence.

In the government’s response to the consultation on the green paper Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision, PHE was tasked with looking at the evidence for approaches to improving children’s mental health and well-being. 

It identifies eight promising approaches from a synthesis of systematic reviews, and a wider range of interventions from a review of the grey literature.

Six of the eight interventions – Zippy’s Friends, Friends Resilience, Resourceful Adolescent Program, Bounce ForwardLearning Aim Reference Service (LARS) and PATHS Progamme for Schools – focus on the individual child. Two of them – Triple P and the Substance Abuse Risk Reduction Programme – are aimed at parents. All eight focus on preventing mental health problems and/or promoting resilience.

The PHE special interest group’s report identifies characteristics of promising interventions operating at individual, family and community levels.

It summarises children and young people’s views about factors they perceive to be important to keeping themselves mentally well, and highlights why this is important evidence in its own right.

The group also recommends that awareness is raised around these promising universal interventions.

Implications for nurses

  • Of the six promising individual interventions, typical characteristics include: provision in group settings in schools and being offered between ten and 24 weeks. They were led by professionals, namely teachers or psychologists, were skills-based, with emphasis on practical experiential, and often drew on cognitive behavioural principles. They include elements of fun and enjoyable practice experiences.
  • Common characteristics of the two promising interventions aimed at parents include:
    – Online provision.
    – Professional support. 
    – Skills-based practice.
  • Overall, there is no clear evidence of an evaluated universal intervention that consistently shows a sustained, meaningful effect to improve mental health and well-being. Even those with the most extensive research evidence yield mixed findings.

Expert comment

Fiona Smith is Royal College of Nursing professional lead for children and young people

‘There is a need for interventions to improve children and young people’s mental health, and this is a good starting point.

‘As the 2019 Public Health England report shows, there is a not always a good evidence base available, but this review will be useful for health commissioners and practitioners.

‘These approaches can help prevent behavioural problems and promote resilience and well-being. The focus on prevention, rather than waiting until children need more acute support is important, and, at this present time, children’s mental health is high on the agenda in the four UK countries.

‘Unfortunately, the nurses needed to support interventions to improve mental health are in short supply. There is a shortfall in school nurses, shortages in the children and adolescent mental health services workforce and, for families with younger children, there are problems with the numbers and capacity of health visitors.’


Find out more

Erin Dean is a health writer

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