What do we mean by SEMH? “SEMH Meaning”

The term originated in the 2014 SEN Code of Practice and replaced the term SEBD (Social Emotional Behaviour Difficulties). This move towards recognising the behavioural link to Mental Health has been a long time coming in the eyes of many. Although the term “behaviour” has been removed from this acronym, within the SEN Code of Practice behaviour linked to Mental Health and emotional wellbeing underlying needs is a common theme. The concept of addressing needs rather than attempting to subdue behaviours has led to a more informed, whole child approach.

SEMH – Social, Emotional and Mental Health

SEMH Meaning – What does SEMH stand for? – What is SEMH?

Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) is a broad term used to define a range of different needs children may have at any given time. This term has gained more and more attention as teachers and parents have become aware of the increased awareness of mental health in children and the impact that this can have on their wellbeing and ability to learn.


Children are, like all other humans, social creatures. Many have the skills to be able to communicate and exist around others fairly problem free (but not entirely!). However where there is a communicative issue, attachment concern or other challenge, the child may find forming and maintaining relationships with adults and other children a problem. This can affect their sense of wellbeing, access to the community, ability to solve problems and learn effectively. Over time this may lead to more serious, persistent concerns. It is therefore vital we give children the skills and opportunities to interact with the world effectively to enable them to reach their full potential. How do we do this? Below is a list of starting points with resources to help support you to meet these needs.

semh meaning

Conversations That Matter – A useful tool for supporting children when holding difficult conversations. Click here for more information: https://amzn.to/3ondR2E


This topic is such a broad one covering emotional regulation, recognising and normalising emotions, managing stress, building resilience skills and understanding others’ emotions amongst many many other things. The Mental Health Continuum (show below) shoes the different positions we can be in with regard to our emotional wellbeing and mental health. This is a useful tool when considering the needs of the child you are working with. Many emotional wellbeing problems do not need professional therapeutic intervention but do require someone to work therapeutically with them – that being listening, empathising, emotionally coaching. Being a good human is often enough.

semh meaning

A child who is having to deal with a transient issue that can cause low sense of wellbeing (bereavement, divorce, relationship breakdown) does not necessarily have a mental health problem. However if they were to be unsupported in this difficult time and felt unable to cope over a long period of time, this could lead to problems that may require further intervention and may possibly lead to a mental health problem. Normal emotional responses to difficult periods are just that, normal. We do however have a role to support children through these times and teach the emotional regulation skills to help them to process what is happening, learn how to destress, understand how to communicate those issues and help them to identify their emotions. You can find recommended reading for this topic below.

Mental Health

When we talk about mental health in the context of SEMH meaning, we are moving more towards talking about a diagnosable mental health condition or a set of symptoms that might see someone seek professional support. A key feature of mental health challenges are seemingly irrational fears, obsessional pre-occupations, persistent intrusive thoughts, rumination, safety behaviours and actions/thoughts/feelings that are based on an issue the person may have with how they are processing the world around them. For example a highly anxious child may see threats in every day situations based on their experiences or understanding. A child may have a low sense of self worth and this may impact on how they perceive interactions with others or how they tackle school work. A normal response to an adverse situation is not a sign of poor mental health, but poor emotional wellbeing. This period may however cause adjustments in a child/young person’s beliefs about the world and responses that may cause problems for them that develop into mental health conditions later on.

How we think affects how we feel (MH to Social). How we feel can affect how we think (Emotional to MH). How we feel can affect how we interact (Emotional to Social). How we interact can affect how we feel (Emotional to Social). How we think can affect how relate to others (Social to Mental Health) and finally how we interact with others can lead to changes in how we think (Mental Health to Social).

If you are a mental health lead in your setting, I cannot recommend the Tina Rae Mental Health Lead Guides enough.

Please leave any questions you may have in our forum and get in touch via twitter if you want to speak more about semh meaning.(@DanH_9).



The SEN COP 2015 highlighted SEMH as a special education need. Children demonstrating these needs often struggle to regulate their emotions and have difficulty responding to every day challenges.

What causes SEMH?

Social Emotional and Mental Health needs can be attributed to many different causes, some less obvious than others. Life experiences, genetic factors, environments all play a part and all need to be considered.

What does SEMH stand for? Also “What is SEMH?” or “What is the definition of SEMH?”

Social Emotional and Mental Health.