The quality of mental and emotional health in childhood can have lifelong implications. 50% of all adult mental health conditions are established by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 18. A third of adult conditions relate to an adverse childhood experience.

When any of these things are missing, they can have both short-term and long-term impacts on mental and emotional health. We also know that the mental and emotional health of children and young people can be badly affected by events. These might be changing schools, family stress or breakdown, bereavement, physical illness, being bullied or abused, parents in distress, relocating, examinations, going to university, starting work, etc. For too many children and young people, their health is undermined by the environment in which they grow up, affected by poverty, unsafe communities and a lack of opportunities.

There has been a sea-change in attitudes to mental and emotional health in recent years. Stigma campaigns are addressing damaging attitudes. It is now more commonly acknowledged that 100% of people will face mental health challenges at different stages of their life.

This has created more awareness and demand for mental health support. At the same time, the quality of society’s mental and emotional health has not improved and appears to be getting worse. The response to the increase in need, awareness and demand has been totally inadequate. COVID-19 has brought the issue to the fore and increased the urgency for innovation and impact at scale.

Opportunity areas for innovation

Our approach to innovation to improve the mental and emotional health of children and young people is:

Fairer Life Chances

Creating new products and services which address the unfair life chances faced by up to half of children and young people, including:

  • early years support (0-4 years) for disadvantaged children & their parents
  • support for stressed and distressed families
  • inspiration, mentoring & access to social capital new entrants where there is poor access to great nurseries, schools, apprenticeships, colleges & jobs
  • equal access to educational opportunities outside the school day
  • keeping young people safe from violence, gangs and crime
  • new education, work and training opportunities
  • for those aged 14-18 who don’t thrive in the traditional academic route
  • life, careers and financial guidance
  • overcoming discrimation based on social class, gender, ethnicity, disability and/or sexual orientation

There are huge markets for new products and services which meet the needs of children and young people. The developed world spends more than $2.5 trillion each year on education and $600 billion on children’s and young people’s healthcare. Globally, teenagers directly spend $1 trillion per year. It is estimated that children and teenagers influence at least as much again of their parents’ spending. For example, the global gaming market totals $160 billion each year.

The need to improve children’s and young people’s mental and emotional health was high-profile, urgent and unsolved before the COVID crisis. But the lockdown year has hit children and young people really hard, denying them key pillars of good mental and emotional health. They have lost education, social connectivity, recreation, freedom and, in many cases, hope and financial security.

The time is now.

This is the moment when the world’s most passionate and determined innovators need to build new ventures to deliver on this mission and ensure that every child can develop and maintain good mental and emotional health.