Children's mental health and wellbeing
Hi, my name is Kim Petersen and I’m a second year PhD student at the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE).
My PhD research focusses on primary school children’s mental health and wellbeing. I am interested in looking at lots of different aspects of children’s mental health and wellbeing (e.g. feeling sad, angry, happy, enjoying life etc.) and finding common patterns of mental health and wellbeing. I want to find out:
1) what causes the different patterns of mental health
2) whether behaviour programmes used in schools affect children’s mental health
I hope this information will help us to find ways to improve children’s mental health and wellbeing in the future.
How did I get here?
After my A-levels I went to Glasgow University to do a degree in Psychology. I went on to work for a charity, supporting children with different neurological conditions, like autism spectrum disorder. Then, I did a PGCE teacher training qualification and worked as a primary school teacher. While working as a teacher I became really interested in children’s mental health and wellbeing and what schools could do to try and improve it. So, I decided to go back to university to do research in this area. First, I did a Master’s degree in Psychology and Education and then I applied to do a research PhD. I didn’t always know that I would end up doing this, but my experiences and interests sort of led me here, and I really enjoy what I am doing.
What is mental health?
Mental health is a term we have all heard of, but what does it actually mean? Sometimes, when people talk about ‘mental health’, they are only talking about mental health disorders, like depression or schizophrenia. Today, many researchers, and others, think that mental health is more than this. As well as mental health difficulties, there are also positive aspects of mental health like feeling good and satisfied with your life. There is a widely held statistic that ‘1 in 4 people have mental health problems’. However, 4 out of 4 people have mental health because 4 out of 4 people have brains! In other words mental health is something we all have and we should focus on helping everyone gain better mental health and wellbeing.
I am investigating mental health in this broad way, which includes both mental health problems and positive aspects of mental wellbeing. We collected information about children’s mental health and wellbeing by giving surveys to around 3000 primary school children and their teachers. We also collected other information about the children, like whether they were male or female, how they felt about their school, their relationships with other children, their school grades, and whether they had taken part in a school behaviour programme.
To make sense of all the information collected I use a computer programme to help me to find patterns in the data. For example, I can use the programme to see if there are some groups of children who show very similar patterns of mental health. I can then look at what other characteristics these children have. For example, if I found a group of children that had no mental health problems but felt very happy and satisfied with life, I could find out if those children were more likely to be male or female, have better relationships with their friends, or have taken part in a school behaviour programme, compared to other groups. The aim is to identify what might be important for good mental health and wellbeing so that we can try to improve children’s mental health in the future.
Why is this kind of research important?
Improving children’s mental health has been highlighted as an important issue in the UK. The government has said that schools have an important role to play in doing this. Research is needed to show what schools can do to try and improve children’s mental health and wellbeing.
Find out more about children’s mental health and wellbeing on these charities’ webpages:
The Good Childhood Report provides information about what children and young people say about their own mental health and wellbeing:
This is a summary of a recent government proposal for how to improve children’s mental health and wellbeing:
Here is a link to the Manchester Institute of Education so you can see what courses we offer and what research we do: