Our children are in a mental health crisis. We need to take action now

Group Photo APPG 2023 2000

This World Mental Health Day, our sport is calling on the leaders of our political parties to unlock the potential of sport and physical activity to play a more meaningful role in tackling the UK’s growing mental health epidemic.

Launched today at an All Party Parliamentary Group for Running event in Liverpool, led by Kim Leadbeater MP, the central message in the Open Letter to MPs says we’re failing too many of our children, who leave school unfit, inactive and dealing with poor mental health on an unprecedented scale:

  • The number of children and young people in mental health crisis reached record levels this year. In the year to March 2023 there were 21,555 urgent referrals to mental health crisis teams, up 46% on 2022, according to analysis of NHS data by the charity Young Minds.
  • More than one in ten primary-aged school children has an identifiable mental health condition – that is around three children in every class.
  • All of us involved in sport and physical activity, from grassroots community clubs to the UK’s biggest mass participation running events, have seen the profound and positive effect physical activity can have on mental health and wellbeing in children and adults.
  • Research shows children experience increased feelings of happiness, improvements in self-esteem and feel calmer after taking part in The Daily Mile.

Meanwhile, data released by the government earlier this year showed the number of hours young people spend doing physical education and sport in secondary schools in England has fallen by more than 12% since the 2012 London Olympics.

As a sector, we’re ready to help. We work to deliver solutions, facilitating activity outreach programmes in schools and communities, rolling out junior and adult parkruns and funetics across the nation, staging world-leading events that inspire people of all ages and abilities to get active and improve their mental and physical health and generating £85bn every year in economic, social and health uplift.

"Running and physical education should be treated for children and young people the same as English, Maths and Science."

England Athletics CEO Chris Jones

Hayley Jarvis of Mind and Harry Stow, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at England Athletics gave a joint speech to the APPG audience. Their key messages:

  • Many of us will be familiar with the statistic that 1 in 4 adults experience mental health problems each year. But what about our young people? In 2017, 1 in 9 young people experienced mental health problems. Now a staggering 1 in 6 young people aged (6-16) and 1 in 4 (16-18 year olds) experience mental health problems each year… Behind every statistic is a young person being let down by our system and our society, with a Mental Health Bill that needs urgent reform.
  • Our physical health and mental health are intertwined. (There is no health without mental health). We know sport, physical activity and movement can play a key role in both the prevention and management of mental health problems. It doesn’t have to be far or fast, just 15.09 minutes can lift the mood.

A lifetime of activity, leading to a happier, healthier population needs to start and be embedded throughout our school years. This is the first and most important step to improving the health and wellbeing of the nation.

We’re calling on all party leaders to put physical and health literacy at the heart of the future school curriculum, giving all children and young people access to high-quality PE, co-curricular activity, and community provision to truly leverage the unique position of schools to transform every childhood through physical activity.

Joining England Athletics in the creation of the Open Letter are:

Welsh Athletics
Scottish Athletics
Athletics NI
Youth Sport Trust
Sport and Recreation Alliance
London Marathon Events
The Great Run Company
The Daily Mile

Group Photo APPG 2023 2000 blurred out