An exploration into the experiences of young people when finding out they have been identified as having social, emotional, mental health (SEMH) difficulties

  • Hayley Mccarthy-Singh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The new Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice (2015) has introduced the category of social, emotional, mental health (SEMH) difficulties. Previous research has suggested that young people were not aware that they had been identified as having SEMH difficulties and when they were informed of the SEMH category it was perceived negatively (Sheffield & Morgan, 2017; O’Connor et al, 2011; Caslin, 2019). The aims of this research were to investigate young people’s experiences when finding out that they had been identified as having SEMH difficulties, and the effect this could have on how they perceive themselves. The research involved three young people, aged between 13 and 16, who were interviewed using semi-structured interviews. The participants also created a timeline of their experiences to support with the interview. For this research, interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used as the methodology. IPA is focused on exploring in detail the individual experiences of a person and how people make sense of their experiences and the world around them (Smith & Eatough, 2007). There were four master themes identified from the young people’s experiences of having SEMH difficulties: ‘Labels and Diagnoses’, ‘Support’, ‘Life Events’ and ‘Identity’. It was found that all of the young people did not know that they were identified as having SEMH difficulties prior to the research; it was through the process of the research that they became aware of the SEMH category. However, all of the participants identified with the SEMH category, thus it was concluded that the SEMH category had a positive impact on the identity of the participants. Two of the participants also described the positive implications of being categorised with SEMH difficulties, including increased self-understanding and raising awareness of others. Furthermore, there were three factors identified that could be useful for schools to consider when informing children and young people of their SEMH categorisation, including having a strengths-based approach, the use of timelines and positive role models.
Date of Award23 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJohn Franey (Supervisor) & Jak L Lee (Supervisor)

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