Building Great Britons

26 February 2015

Children and young people’s mental health is a hot topic at the moment, but infant mental health often gets overlooked, or is sometimes seen as a separate issue.

The first two years of life are essential for the healthy development of babies, both physically and mentally. This is when babies’ brains are developing and important connections are being formed; and it is when the brain is at its most adaptable.

As Tim Loughton in his foreword to the First 1001 Days All Party Parliamentary Group’s report Building Great Britons says ‘this is not rocket science...it is neuro-science’.

The report, which has cross party support, highlights very strongly what the issues are, and what needs to be done.

A warm, sensitive and consistent relationship between parents/carers and their child, where the parent is attuned to the baby’s needs is important for healthy brain development, and for the baby to become securely attached to their parent/carer. Unfortunately, only about 60% of the general population are securely attached. This is essential for the child’s mental health and wellbeing, both in the short and long-term.

At the Mental Health Foundation, we would like local areas to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of all babies, children and young people.

We don’t have good data on the prevalence or mental disorders in under 5s, but we do know that about 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5-16 and that about 1 in 4 adults have a mental disorder. Adult mental health problems often have their roots in childhood. Intervening during the first 1001 days is essential as, according to Building Great Britons, about half of infants and toddlers show continuity of emotional and behavioural problems one year after initial presentation.

We need to nip these problems in the bud and provide upstream interventions which promote mental health and wellbeing.