How Mental Health affects Education

The impact of mental health challenges in children and young people can affect their education as well as their day-to-day lives.

How Mental Health affects Education. Illustration of a school.

We know that poor mental health can be debilitating on a daily basis and can prevent us from taking part in society, work, and social activities. When you add this to adolescence, it can compound the feelings and experiences that are already hard when you are growing up.

The impact of Mental Health on Children

Children face a wide variety of challenges in their lives simply in terms of growing up and establishing their place in their family, their peer group, their communities, and society as a whole. When combined with political, economic, social, or educational disadvantage, events in children’s lives can trigger a negative mental health response that can affect how they live and engage with education for years to come.

If you are looking for an organisation to help support you or your child with their mental health then please check out our list of mental health organisations.

Research into Children’s Mental Health

In 2017, the latest edition of the Mental Health of Children and Young People (MHCYP) survey collected information on about mental health and wellbeing of 9,117 children aged 2 to 19 in England​(Ford et al., 2020)​. Specific mental disorders were grouped into four broad categories: emotional, behavioural, hyperactivity and other less common disorders. The survey was conducted by NatCen Social Research, the Office for National Statistics and YouthInMind on behalf of NHS Digital.

The MHCYP survey found:

  • One in eight (12.8%) 5 to 19-year-olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed in 2017.
  • Emotional disorders were the most prevalent type of disorder experienced by 5 to 19-year-olds in 2017 (8.1%).
  • Rates of mental disorders increased with age. 5.5% of 2 to 4-year-old children experienced a mental disorder, compared to 16.9% of 17 to 19-year-olds. (Caution is needed, however, when comparing rates between age groups due to differences in data collection. For example, teacher reports were available only for 5 to 16-year-olds).
  • A slight increase over time in the prevalence of a mental disorder in 5 to 15-year-olds. Rising from 9.7% in 1999 and 10.1% in 2004 to 11.2% in 2017.
  • Emotional disorders have become more common in five to 15 year-olds – going from 4.3% in 1999 and 3.9% in 2004 to 5.8% in 2017. All other types of disorder, such as behavioural, hyperactivity and other less common disorders, have remained similar in prevalence for this age group since 1999.

Research into how mental health affects education

Time to Change surveyed 3,051 people between 23/07/14-20/08/14 via Survey Monkey. All of the respondents had experienced a mental health problem and they were asked to reflect on their experiences while in education, up to and including university. 1,961 respondents experienced problems at primary or secondary school and 1,503 respondents are still under the age of 24.

  • Three quarters of young people (77%) with mental health problems have missed out on education
  • one in four students (24%) the reason they did not go into school, college or university was because they were worried about what other people would say
  • 15% of people experienced bullying as a result of mental health problems.
  • a third of those (31%) were on the receiving end of derogatory language with respondents citing, “crazy” “mental” and “attention-seeking” as some of the most common terms used
  • half of those questioned (48%) chose not to tell anyone at school or college about their mental health problems
  • more than one in ten people (12%) mental health problems put a stop to education altogether.
  • “one in ten young people will experience a mental health problem, that’s around three in every classroom” – Jenny Taylor, Head of the Children and Young People’s Programme at Time to Change, 31 August 2014
  • 80% of people lost their confidence
  • 54% said it had an impact on their education
  • 26% of people said it had an impact on job prospects

Interactive chart: Mental health & childhood

The following interactive chart shows data from the ONS.

  1. Ford, T., Vizard, T., Sadler, K., McManus, S., Goodman, A., Merad, S., Tejerina-Arreal, M., & Collinson, D. (2020). Data Resource Profile: Mental Health of Children and Young People (MHCYP) Surveys. International Journal of Epidemiology, 363–364g.