Jeremy Hunt has announced a new £5 million programme to train primary school staff in mental health first aid.
It will help teachers spot the early signs of mental illness in young children and follows a similar scheme introduced in high schools last summer.
Hunt has also called on social media companies to do more to tackle the negative impact their platforms can have on children’s confidence and self-esteem.
Blogging for HuffPost UK, the health secretary said: “I’ve been vocal over the past 12 months about the need for social media companies to step up to the plate and help us tackle the mental health issues that research suggests is associated with to excessive social media use.
“I worry for my own children, and I worry that as a nation we are sleepwalking into a situation where a whole generation of young people are spending huge chunks of their childhood online rather than investing in the deep and enduring face-to-face relationships that help them grow up as well-rounded individuals.”
Facebook came under heavy criticism from Hunt after it launched a dedicated messaging service for young children, with the minister warning the company to “stay away from my kids”.
Hunt said new training programmes in high schools had so far been “well received”.
“Mental ill health can set in from an extremely young age, and how quickly and effectively we respond can often make a huge difference to a child’s life,” he added.
“This training will help put schools on the front foot in identifying and helping children who are struggling.”
But critics say the amount pledged is a drop in the ocean, equating to just £297.87 per primary school and £1.06 per pupil when spread across all schools.
Luciana Berger, president of the Labour Campaign for mental health, told HuffPost UK: “Since 2010 we’ve seen significant cuts to children’s centres and community support services which impact on a child’s mental health before they get to school.
“With child and adolescent mental health services facing intense pressure, schools are then expected to pick up the slack. However, faced with their own significant budgetary constraints, we’ve seen a reduction in the provision of counsellors, educational psychologists and pastoral care workers.”
Berger said in her own constituency of Wavertree, Liverpool, she had heard “countless stories” of children under 11 being denied access to mental health services because they don’t meet the required threshold.
“Services are at capacity,” she added.
“Teachers and schools have a vital role to play when it comes to children’s mental health, however we desperately need properly funded health and social care services if we’re going to see real change.
“Quite frankly, this money will not begin to address the savage cuts that schools and local services have faced in recent years.”