Social emotional and mental health - Children and young people: Overview


The area of social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) includes:

  • Social and emotional functioning
  • Well being
  • The ability to regulate self and behaviour
  • Mental health difficulties

The children and young people (CYP) who experience these difficulties may have a medical mental health diagnosis. They may have special educational needs in this area.

In England, the term SEMH has superseded the terms Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (EBD), Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD), and Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD) since the publication of the 2015 SEND Code of Practice.

The new code of practice defines social, emotional and mental health in the following way:

  • 6.32 Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.” (Department for Education & Department for Health, (2015)


Children and young people may also experience SEMH but have no formal recognition in terms of diagnosis or special educational needs categorisation.

Key points

  • An increasing number of children and young people (CYP) are experiencing social emotional and mental health needs (SEMH).
  • Many CYP with SEMH also have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).
  • Many CYP who experience both SEMH and SLCN have other co-occurring difficulties such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), insecure attachment or conduct disorder.
  • SLCN is often unrecognised in CYP with SEMH needs, meaning that:


          SLCN is masked by other behaviours
          They are misunderstood and unsupported
          Interventions for SEMH are less likely to be effective

  • SLCN can have long-term negative consequences, and these are compounded if the child or young person also has SEMH. This is particularly true if their SLCN is unrecognised.
  • Many CYP who are Looked after children (LAC) or Looked after children and young  people (LACYP) also have SEMH.

Further information

      RCSLT Factsheets

         - Social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing
         - Looked after children
         - Safeguarding


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