More than half of adults lack the confidence to approach a child, or a parent of a child that they suspect to have a mental health problem, in case they are mistaken, a new survey launched today reveals.

The survey comes as a new website - MindEd - funded by the Department of Health launches. It will provide adults with the knowledge and skills to help address this lack of mental health awareness.

Commissioned by group of national organisations specialising in child and adolescent mental health, the survey of 2,105 UK adults found that 38% didn't know what signs and symptoms they needed to look out for, and if they did, 51% said they were worried about raising the issue for fear of being mistaken.

With over 850,000 children in the UK diagnosed with a mental health problem, the group warns that without increased education or awareness to help adults identify and understand children and young people with mental health issues, thousands are at increased risk of alcohol and drug misuse, self-harm, neglect and in extreme cases, suicide.

The survey shows:

  • 87% would turn to their GP for help and advice if they thought a child had a mental health issue - with 55% saying they'd turn to a family member, 37% to a teacher and nearly three quarters (72%) saying they'd use the internet
  • The majority of respondents (80%) believe that exercise is likely to improve the mental health of wellbeing of children and young people
  • Only 20% think that antidepressants are likely to have a positive effect on children and young people with mental health problems
  • Two thirds of respondents (66%) said that they would welcome more Government investment in children's mental health services to equip professionals with the skills to identify and treat these children at the earliest opportunity

Dr Raphael Kelvin, Child Psychiatrist and Clinical Lead for the MindEd programme, said:
"Half of all diagnosable mental health conditions start before the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 21, so identifying children at the earliest opportunity is crucial in setting them on the best path in life.

"Investing in early intervention is crucial - not doing so comes at a high price for those battling a mental health condition, and also costs the economy vast sums of money in lost education, training, jobs, and often, through crime.

"It's clear from these results that there's still stigma attached to mental health with 51% of adult admitting fear of approaching the issue. It's also clear that many adults are not confident in being able to spot the signs of ill mental health in children and many are turning to other adults - family, friends and teachers - for help and advice.

"So it's vital that people know what to look out for so they can address the issue before it worsens and that's where MindEd can help."

Launching today (25 March 2014), MindEd is an online tool containing bite-sized e-learning packages, individually tailored to equip professionals and volunteers working with children and young people - including teachers, sports coaches, police, healthcare professionals, social workers and many more - with the skills to identify children with a mental health condition. As well as tackling stigma and giving adults access to information anytime and in any place, it aims to speed up the time it takes to identify child mental health problems and put them on the path to the most appropriate treatment.

Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb, said:
"Spotting the signs of mental health problems early in children and young people is essential to prevent problems from escalating and continuing into adulthood. That's why we have invested £3 million in MindEd - so that people working with children, from teachers to dinner ladies and sports coaches to Scouts leaders, can recognise when a child needs help and make sure they get it.

"I am committed to improving children and young people's mental health. We have invested a total of £54 million in programmes and initiatives to ensure children and young people get the right support quickly."

The survey also looks at attitudes towards child and adolescent mental health by gender, age and social group, revealing that:

  • 39% of men believe many children diagnosed with a mental health condition were just badly behaved
  • 18-24 year-olds are much more likely to think anti-depressants would help improve mental health and well-being (32%) compared to just a fraction of adults aged 65+ (11%)
  • 69% of respondents believe that every school should have a dedicated member of staff on site for young people to approach with mental health and well-being concerns

Dr Kelvin added:
"In order to build confidence and tackle mental health head on, adults need to know what to look out for and where to turn to for reliable information. With the majority of adults using the internet for advice, having easily available and accurate online information is crucial.

"All young people deserve to have access to the best healthcare and when they need it. I am confident that with the right support, by the right person, in the right place and delivered at the right time, we can prevent thousands of children 'slipping through the net' and struggling year on year to cope with mental health conditions."