This week is Children’s Mental Health Awareness week

This week (5-11 February), England Athletics will be marking the annual Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, an awareness event designed to empower and give a voice to all children and young people in the UK.

Now in its tenth year, the awareness week is co-ordinated by children and young people’s mental health charity Place2Be, which operates with the goal that no child or young person should face a mental health problem alone.

The charity estimates that 1 in 5 children and young people have a probable mental health condition, figures reflected in the rise in the data shared by NHS charity Young Minds, which charts a recent increase of 46% in urgent referrals among children and young people to mental health crisis teams.

Open letter to MPs

It was alarming figures such as these which prompted England Athletics and other athletics and running organisations to pen an open letter to MPs last October (to mark World Mental Health Day) to urge them to unlock the power of sport and physical activity to play a more meaningful role in tackling the growing mental health epidemic.

Read full details and download the letter

At the time, England Athletics CEO, Chris Jones, said:

“Running and physical education should be treated for children and young people the same as English, maths and science.”

As an organisation, we are determined to ensure both that athletics and running is utilised to the greatest possible extent to improve the mental health of children and young people, and that those children and young people within our sport are given comprehensive, thorough and exceptional support in this area.

All this week we will be sharing the different ways in which we are striving to make a difference.


Our funetics programme is targeted predominantly at improving the physical literacy in communities throughout England with high levels of deprivation. Research shows that children living in such areas are more likely to develop mental health problems, which again points towards the link between physical health and mental wellbeing.

Tracey Francis, Participation Programmes Manager at England Athletics, says:

“The link between physical activity and mental wellbeing is well-established, but sadly, this has not translated into investment. funetics is designed to get our children active in a fun, inclusive environment, as a foundation for a lifetime of physical activity which will in turn help support positive mental wellbeing, decrease sedentary lifestyles, and promote happiness.”

Personal Best Foundation

With a similar train of thought, we launched our Personal Best Foundation in November 2022. The charity is committed to changing young people’s lives through the power of athletics, with a particular focus on the around 4 million children or young people in the UK who are impacted due to inequality and poverty, leading to factors such as poor mental health.

At the time of the launch, charity ambassador and England Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Fatima Whitbread MBE said:

“Through a traumatic childhood sport was my saviour, throwing the javelin gave me the ability to compete on level terms, to earn respect at school from my peers, and also feel good and have self-confidence.”

England Talent Programmes

Our England Talent Programme provides a progressive support structure to ensure that an athlete can reach their full potential. Alongside the technical and physical guidance delivered by our expert coaches, the pathway also provides holistic support to ensure that athletes are equipped psychologically for the transition into a successful senior athlete or a career outside of athletics.

Sarah Benson, Head of Talent Development at England Athletics, says:

“Ensuring that young athletes have access to wellbeing support and the ability to share and discuss issues is absolutely critical, both in their progression within the sport and development as people. It’s imperative that bodies such as England Athletics invest in this area of our young athletes’ development, and we’re pleased to be empowering the athletes on our Pathway programmes with comprehensive, holistic support.”

Changes in legislation

One of the key driving factors behind the recently-approved proposals to change the age groups of competitions within athletics, was the opportunity to avoid the existing clash of exam pressure with the top of age group competition, referred to as the ‘perfect storm’ of pressure on young people.