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Children’s mental health: “It’s time to move from treatment to prevention”

Youth Sport Trust

The Youth Sport Trust explains why change is needed and how physical activity can make a significant difference to your pupils’ wellbeing…

Children’s mental health is in crisis in the UK. New data released by the NHS showed that the number of children in England needing treatment for serious mental health problems has risen by 39% in a year and referrals have now passed the one million mark.

Data released in December 2022 by NHS Digital also shows that 18% of children aged seven to 16 years had a probable mental disorder.

This generation has experienced major changes in their lives following the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of this, increased social inequality, online harm and the cost-of-living crisis are creating a ripple effect on young people’s school and home life.

It’s clear that this crisis can no longer be ignored, but with specialist central services at breaking point and schools underfunded to cope, how do we begin to tackle this crisis? 

Building resilience

At the Youth Sport Trust, we believe that we urgently need to shift focus from treatment to prevention, arming children and young people with the tools they need to build resilience and a sense of belonging to stave off depression.  

There is a growing body of evidence to support the mental health and wellbeing impacts of physical activity for children and young people. New data released by Sport England in December 2022 showed that physically literate children and young people are happier and more resilient than non-physically literate peers.

A new study by the University of Hong Kong found that when children participated in at least 50 minutes of sport three times a week, the severity of signs of depression reduced by about a third, with the biggest benefits recorded in those children who had been diagnosed with depression.   

What role can educators play in leveraging PE, play and sport to improve mental health? 

Despite the known benefits, only 47.2% of children and young people (3.4 million) are meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more every day. Meanwhile, 30.1% (2.2m) do less than an average of 30 minutes a day.  

Schools are uniquely placed to help all families and children, irrespective of economic circumstance, reap the benefits of an active lifestyle. And yet we know that over the last 10 years, 36,244 hours of PE have been lost from the curriculum.

Our research also found that just over half (52%) of practitioners felt that PE, school sport and physical activity are seen as priorities within their schools and over a quarter (26%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. 

“Schools are uniquely placed to help all families and children, irrespective of economic circumstance, reap the benefits of an active lifestyle.”

Support for schools

The Youth Sport Trust is committed to helping schools better support active lifestyles through world-class physical education programmes, extra-curricular enrichment and through an active curriculum.

During 2022 we trained over 13,000 education professionals and over 80,000 young people, with almost a quarter of a million young people taking part in an activity made possible through our work. 

This March, we’re inviting hundreds of educational professionals to attend our 2023 Conference at the Telford International Centre. The conference will feature experts from the health sector, government, activists with lived experience and specialists in their field. 

Keynote speakers include rower and Benjamin Franklin Award-winning author Arshay Cooper, the protagonist of the critically acclaimed film A Most Beautiful Thing, who will share his story of how he formed the first all-black high school rowing team in America.  

Zach Weston, clinician, educator, health system administrator and entrepreneur will join us to explain the science behind movement and brain function, looking differently at addressing inactivity through adoption of the Canadian 24-hour movement model. 

And we will also be joined by Dr Alex George, former A&E now TV doctor and Youth Mental Health Ambassador, 10 Downing Street, and author of A Better Day, the positive mental health handbook for children.

The full conference agenda is packed with two keynote speeches, 12 bookable workshops, three live podcast recordings, and a ‘big debate’ featuring education and policy heavyweights.

The details
  • The YST Conference 2023 will take place on 2 March.
  • Conference tickets are priced at £99 for Youth Sport Trust members and £249 for non-members.
  • Any delegate who books two or more tickets in the same transaction will benefit from a reduced ticket price of £149 per ticket, meaning an extra delegate can attend for just an additional £49.

Youth Sport Trust

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