Mental health is everyone’s human right.  

Just like anybody else, children and young people have the right to the best mental health possible. That doesn’t mean not having a mental health condition, like anxiety or depression. It means being supported to have positive mental wellbeing.   

What are my rights as a child or young person to good mental health?  

The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out a number of rights you have to good mental health.  

Article 2  

Article 2 of the UNCRC states you must be protected from all kinds of discrimination. Mental health services should be provided for everyone regardless of their age, gender, religion or disability. You shouldn’t be discriminated against because you have poor mental health or a mental health condition.  

Article 6   

Article 6 of the UNCRC says you have the right to be alive, survive and develop. The government has a responsibility to keep you safe from harm.  

Article 24  

Article 24 of the UNCRC states that you have the right to the best possible healthcare and that governments must provide good quality healthcare and education on health and well-being so that you can stay healthy. If you are ill, you have a right to good health services. You have the right to live in a safe, healthy environment which helps you stay well.

Article 27   

Article 27 of the UNCRC says the government must make sure that you have a decent standard of living that allows you to develop fully – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially.   

General Comment 4  

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is clear in its General Comment 4 that any state that has signed up to the UNCRC should provide children and young people with the necessary services to treat depression, eating disorders and ‘self-destructive behaviours’.  

It alsotalks about some of the things that have to happen so that young people can enjoy their rights.  

Among these are that young people need:  

  • good enough treatment and a good enough chance to recover  
  • community awareness of the early signs and symptoms of poor mental health 
  • protecting from undue pressures, including psychosocial stress (such as the death of someone close or parents divorcing) 

The Committee is also clear that states have a duty to combat stigma around mental disorders.   

Who can I speak to if I’m feeling low or just need to talk to someone? 

Give Us a Shout – Shout 85258 is a free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope. 

Breathing Space – a free, confidential phone and webchat service for anyone in Scotland over the age of 16 experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety. 

Childline – a free, private and confidential service where you can talk about anything, online, on the phone, anytime. 

Samaritans – for anyone who’s struggling to cope, who needs someone to listen without judgement or pressure, day or night. 

Where can I find out about mental health services for children and young people?  

SAMH - providing early intervention, community-based mental health support to children and young people.  

Support in Mind Scotland - mental health resources for children and young people.  

Youth Link Scotland - information for the youth work sector to help manage the mental health of young people affected by COVID-19.  

See Me Scotland - tackling stigma and discrimination for young people.  

Place2Be - offering child mental health support in Scotland to pupils and their families  

Young Minds - the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health.  

What have you been working on to safeguard my rights?

Children and young people are struggling with their mental health across Scotland.  

As we emerge from Covid-19, children and young people have been clear; they want to see mental health be a priority issue for our office.  

So what are we doing about it?  

We supported the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland to create an Alternative Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, looking at the laws and policies passed in Scotland in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  

The Impact Assessment looked at how these had affected children and young people in nine different areas, and mental health was one of these.  

Read more about the Impact Assessment and its findings

A Place in Childhood

This year, we supported young consultants working with A Place in Childhood (APiC) on the #ScotYouthandCOVID2 project. It sets out the ways in which this group of young people think Scotland needs to change after our experiences living with a global pandemic and encourages other young people across Scotland to contribute to creating a manifesto for change. 

Mental health was a huge theme for the young consultants and they presented a series of Asks of decision-makers around what needs to change:  

  • Set up a helpline for children and young people to ring to discuss our wellbeing and get information and advice to help improve it 
  • Understand that we’ve had a really difficult year and we need time and space to recover. Remote schooling has been challenging and it’s often not been clear what has been expected of us 
  • Focus on creating opportunities for us to feel young again and be childish  
  • Improve mental health support and services for us. Long waiting lists are bad for the wellbeing of ourselves, friends and families. 

Our mental health group of young advisers have just started working on a significant project around the mental health of children and young people in Scotland. We’ll be able to tell you more about what they’re doing soon.  

What needs to change to meet young people’s right to the best mental health possible?  

  •  Access of information and the availability of support needs to be better.  
  • More investment in children’s mental health services and targeted where it can make a difference.  
  • Children and young people want to be able to access proper support in schools; that means ensuring better and faster access to school counsellors.  
  • Young people in Scotland recommended that there should be a national standard for mental health in places where children and young people learn.  
  • Some schools will have one counsellor for 800 pupils. That’s simply not enough.  
  • Investment in wraparound, community-based mental health services that are accessible to children and young people at any point – not just when they are in crisis.  
  • Acute services are vital, but we need a level of service that plugs the gap from being given a leaflet in school to receiving treatment in hospital. 

Related article  

Coronavirus has sent us into a spiral. Urgent improvements are needed to support children’s mental health