There are many mental health awareness campaigns but I would argue that Children’s Mental Health Week on 5th February is the most important. With over 50% of mental health problems surfacing before the end of our teenage years, early intervention can make all the difference to a child’s wellbeing and future. This guide provides valuable insights for parents on what to look out for and how to access support.
Why Children’s Mental Health is so important
Research shows that mental health difficulties usually emerge during childhood or adolescence. Roughly half of all mental health disorders start by the time we have reached our mid-teens, and three quarters are present by our mid-twenties. These are huge statistics that we cannot afford to ignore.
In my clinical work, this is a clear pattern. When I ask how long the reported difficulties with mood or anxiety have been going on for, I’m often told things like, “for as long as I can remember” or “my Mum says I was always a nervous kid.” Traits such as being nervous, shy, scared, or clingy may be attributed to children as part of their personality rather than behaviours that could be a way of communicating a need or emotion.
Even as adults, we can struggle to express our emotions coherently to others. If we struggle with self-awareness, emotional intelligence and communication, then how can we expect children to do this well?
Signs That Something Might be Wrong
We all experience difficult emotions such as sadness, anxiety and anger at times and it is normal to feel and express a range of emotions. Adolescence can be a particularly volatile time where emotions can be heightened or experienced more intensely. Teens are often criticised for being moody or having mood swings. If the child isn’t blamed for this, then hormones usually are.
If changes in emotional states last for extended periods, it may be helpful to consider seeking professional support.
Signs that a young person may be struggling with their mental health may include the same changes we could notice in ourselves as adults, such as:
- Ongoing sleep difficulties.
- Social withdrawal or isolation.
- Disengagement from things they would usually enjoy.
- Significant changes in behaviour.
- Self-harm, self-neglect, or substance abuse.
How To Support Your Child with their Mental Health
There a number of things that you can do as a parent to support the mental health and wellbeing of your child and catch any early warning signs that they may be struggling.
Here are three key actions:
- Make Time to Listen – take time to talk to your child regularly about how they are. This can help them build their own awareness of their feelings and build confidence expressing themselves. The key is ensuring you are fully available to listen when you ask them questions. It may sound obvious, but we have all had conversations where we have been distracted. When we ask questions, it’s important that we show genuine interest and take what they say seriously. Things that may not feel like a big deal to us as grown-ups can feel significant to a child or teen.
- Show Support – it’s not always easy to remain calm and patient, especially if dealing with challenging behaviour. Philippa Perry, the author of ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Read’ highlights that all behaviour is communication. By trying to understand how your child is feeling and what they are trying to express through their behaviour, you can support them to find more helpful ways of expressing themselves and responding to difficult emotions. This can help them develop healthy problem-solving skills.
- Encourage Their Interests – Social connection, learning and trying new things are all important for boosting our mental wellbeing. they can also feel quite daunting and anxiety-provoking. By taking interest in what’ important to your child, you can support them in pursuing hobbies and new experiences that they are interested in.
Professional Mental Health Support for Children and Teens.
Even with all the care and your best efforts, your child may struggle with their mental health. A lack of mental health awareness, parental guilt and shame can be blockers to talking about this or seeking support. But early support can make a world of different to a child, not only in the present but for their future.
Your GP can be a helpful first port of call for finding local support mental health support for teens and children. Schools may have pastoral care or a school nurse who can offer advice, and Universities have their own wellbeing services that often provide counselling services. Other avenues include the following:
Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS) – These are NHS services that work with children and young people who have difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing. This was formerly known as Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Young Minds – Young Minds are a charity supporting young people’s mental health. They offer a parents helpline and offer advice, emotional support and signposting for parents concerned about a child under the age of 25.
Crisis Support – If you need help for a mental health crisis or emergency, seek urgent support, just as you would for a medical emergency.
Looking After Your Own Mental Wellbeing
Looking after others requires us to be feeling well in ourselves to be able to do this as best we can. Brighter Minds focus on supporting adults using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT acknowledges we can’t always change a difficult experience or situation, but we can change the way we think and behave in response to it in order to improve the way we feel. If you yourself are struggling with your mental health, get in touch to take that first step in supporting yourself.
Raising Mental Health Awareness
By prioritising mental wellbeing for both yourself and for children, you can make a world of difference. We don’t know what we don’t know and sharing knowledge is key part of any awareness campaign. Share this article to play your part in helping us all work together to support children’s mental health.