Why wellbeing matters

Research shows that schools and assessment have a significant role in the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

Key findings

  • 50% of all lifetime cases of mental health difficulties have their first onset by age 141.
  • Mental health and wellbeing in adolescence predicts adult health, labour market and other outcomes2.
  • The wellbeing of adolescents has decreased in the last two decades, while the prevalence of mental health difficulties among them has increased3,4.
  • Of 79 countries surveyed, adolescents in the UK were in the bottom four in terms of life satisfaction5.

The most recent UNICEF research has shown just how far Britain lags behind our European peers in child wellbeing. The very best countries, such as in Scandinavia and the Netherlands rank consistently highly across all health and wellbeing domains.


As we in Britain seek to 'build back fairer', I am delighted to support this vital work in Greater Manchester to truly understand the issues affecting adolescents’ lives – and then do something about it. Greater Manchester has already shown what can be achieved by focussing efforts on under-5s. This critical new initiative will ensure that older children, too, have every opportunity to prosper into fulfilled, healthy adults.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot

Why school matters for mental health and wellbeing

  • School is the primary developmental context after the family6.
  • Many key influences on mental health and wellbeing operate in and through school, such as bullying7.
  • Teachers are the 'first port of call' when parents worry about their child’s mental health8.
  • Young people’s mental health and their learning are inter-related9.
  • The Department for Education sees schools as central to the promotion of mental health and wellbeing10.

What gets assessed gets addressed

  • Assessment and monitoring of mental health and wellbeing can help schools to identify the needs of the student population, inform their decision making about priorities for action and evaluate the success of their efforts11.
  • However, less than half of schools in England collect mental health and wellbeing data of any kind, and those that do tend to use homegrown surveys that may not be reliable or valid12.
  • Other countries focus on, and are successful with, policy on both wellbeing and attainment – notably Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The importance of mental health in the recovery process

  • The COVID-19 crisis has impacted upon young people in ways that are not yet fully understood, with apparently conflicting reports of significant increases13 and decreases14 in mental health difficulties during the lockdown period.
  • It is therefore crucial to comprehensively capture the voices and experiences of Greater Manchester’s young people in the COVID-19 response in order for our community and regional economy to 'build back fairer' – the programme will do so on an unprecedented scale.
  • The framework will help schools and localities to identify needs, inform decision making about priorities for action, and evaluate the success of their efforts.
  • Other stakeholders within and beyond Greater Manchester will also be able to take advantage of the data generated, creating the potential for national influence and significantly improved service delivery for young people.

Case studies

Find out more about our work with local schools in Greater Manchester.


(1) Kim-Cohen J, Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Harrington H, Milne BJ, Poulton R. Prior Juvenile Diagnoses in Adults With Mental Disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003;60(7):709.
(2) Goodman A, Joshi H, Nasim B, Tyler C. Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life. London; 2015.
(3) Children’s Society. The Good Childhood Report 2019. London; 2019.
(4) NHS Digital. Mental health of children and young people in England, 2017. London; 2018.
(5) Office for Economic Cooperation and Development. Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. Paris, France; 2019.
(6) Bronfenbrenner U. Making human beings human: bioecological perspectives on human development. London: Sage Publications; 2005.
(7) Patalay P, Fitzsimons E. Correlates of Mental Illness and Wellbeing in Children: Are They the Same? Results From the UK Millennium Cohort Study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry [Internet]. 2016;55(9):771–83. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2016.05.019
(8) Ford T, Hamilton H, Meltzer H, Goodman R. Child Mental Health is everybody’s business: The prevalence of contact with public sector services by type of disorder among British school children in a three-year period. Child Adolesc Ment Health. 2007;12(1):13–20.
(9) Panayiotou M, Humphrey N. Mental health difficulties and academic attainment: evidence for gender-specific developmental cascades in middle childhood. Dev Psychopathol. 2017;
(10) Department for Education. Mental health and behaviour in schools. London; 2018.
(11) Deighton J. Measuring and monitoring children and young people’s mental wellbeing: a toolkit for schools and colleges. London; 2016.
(12) NatCen Social Research & the National Children’s Bureau Research and Policy Team. Supporting mental health in schools and colleges. London; 2017.
(13) Pearcey S, Shum A, Waite P, Patalay P, Creswell C. Changes in children and young people’s mental helath symptoms and “caseness” during lockdown and patterns associated with key demographic factors. Oxford; 2020.
(14) Widnall E, Winstone L, Mars B, Haworth C, Kidger J. Young people’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020.