Stress and mental health presentations in secondary school-aged young people – recording

Matt Kempen
Marketing Manager for ACAMH

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This was organised by ACAMH’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Special Interest Group, and was led by Dr. Ruth Blackburn and Sorcha Ní Chobhthaigh from UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health present research on mental health in secondary school-aged young people.

Slides from the session

Flyer referenced in the session

About the webinar

Young people with urgent mental health needs often have few alternatives but to come to the emergency department. Emergency acute hospital admissions can therefore signal important gaps in school and community mental health provision. In this research we used administrative data from schools and hospitals to investigate stress and mental health presentations in secondary school-aged young people in England.

Although schools can offer structure, stability and social support networks to many students, this is not the experience for all children. Teacher interactions, self-perception of one’s own academic abilities, academic stress, experiences of discrimination, unfair treatment and peer relationships or victimisation may be sources of distress. Manifestations of stress can be emotional, including anxiety, low mood, feelings of alienation or failure; behavioural, including disruptive or aggressive behaviour, substance misuse or self-harming; and physiological, including somatic symptoms such as abdominal pain, headache or fainting that are medically unexplained. These symptoms are common, often coexist and – without intervention – these individuals may have poorer long term mental health.

In this seminar, we will share findings from a collection of studies that used linked longitudinal hospital and schools records for all young people in England. Together, our research examined unmet mental health need using stress-related emergency admissions, specifically those related to medically unexplained pain or somatic symptoms, self-harm, mental health-related symptoms or externalising behaviours. During the seminar, we will provide an overview of the trends in stress-related hospital admissions. We will take a closer look at the differences between term times and holiday periods, which pupils and schools are most affected, as well as address the issue of inequalities in accessing mental health care based on ethnicity. Finally, we will discuss the importance of the school environment in supporting the mental health of young people.

About the Speakers

Dr Ruth Blackburn
I am a Senior Research Fellow at the UCL GOSH Institute of Child Health. I work on the ECHILD project, with a particular focus on mental health in children, young people and their families.  This work builds on my post-doctoral UKRI Innovation Fellowship at the UCL Institute of Health Informatics that developed linked datasets to examine adolescent health in schools, particularly those relating to stress, self-harm, violence, and drug or alcohol-use.  My wider research interests reflect using data science for public health evaluation and policy intervention for vulnerable population groups including people with experience of homelessness, substance misuse and long-term mental or physical health conditions.

Sorcha Ní Chobhthaigh (name pronunciation – first name: “sir-ka” last name: “nee kuff-ig”)
I am a PhD candidate based primarily at the Institute of Global Health as well as the Institute of Child Health and Institute of Education, supervised by Prof. Delan Devakumar, Prof. Praveetha Patalay, Dr. Rochelle Burgess and Dr. Matthew Jay. I previously worked as a mental health clinician and psycho-educational consultant across community agencies, child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and hospital settings. My PhD research explores bias in the identification of mental health difficulties and access to mental health services, with a particular focus on addressing structural and procedural barriers to care for racially minoritised communities. I hope to apply the knowledge and insights gained from my work with individuals and families to conduct research focused on supporting the mental health of racially minoritised children and young people on a larger scale.


This research is incredibly interesting, thank you. Just wondering whether you have considered students (in mainstream) with a diagnosed disability within your discrimination research? Those who have autism have been mentioned briefly but those with other sensory, physical, learning and also mental health disabilities (including hidden) seem to be missing? We know children with disabilities are four times more likely to be abused and experience ACEs compared to their non disabled peers.

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