The crisis of the declining mental health of children and young people should not be ignored. Last year, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that there has been a steep decline in teen mental health as more than 1 in 3 students report feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness. This is even worse among LGBTQ+ youth and BIPOC. Research by NHS Digital conducted in 2020 reported that 1 in 6 young people experience mental health difficulties, which is a dramatic increase from the 1 in 9 reported in 2017.
Most mental health issues begin early in our lives. According to the UK Mental Health Foundation, 50% of mental health problems are established by aged 14 and 75% by 24.
NAMI and Ipsos recently conducted research concerning the role of parents and schools in improving teen mental health. They report that 95% of teenagers seek help from trusted parents or guardians, however only 47% say that they have regular discussions about their mental wellbeing. Furthermore, the report highlights an opportunity for schools to take an active role in improving students’ mental health as it states that 4 in 5 teenagers who seek help from teachers trust those adults.
These reports and statistics are extremely worrying, but there is still hope for the young generation. Schools, parents, family, and friends can all help to improve children’s mental wellbeing.
What is causing children’s mental health issues?
There can be many different factors building together to create mental health issues, some of these include:
- Academic stress: Exams, tests, and homework alongside pressure from school, family, and friends.
- Pressure on selves to do well: This relates to academic achievements, socialisation, and other activities and events in a child’s life. The need and pressure to juggle it all can be very overwhelming
- Lack of mental health education: There is a lack of resources to educate children and parents about factors that impact wellbeing.
- Lack of communication: As we saw above, children want to do something about their mental wellbeing but there is often a lack of communication between them and those that can help.
- The Coronavirus Pandemic: Dr Murthy argues that young people have suffered the most during Covid and lockdown. The uncertainty, the changes in environment and structure, and the fear of the pandemichas impacted their lives in ways that are still undetermined.
Signs to look out for
It is important to actively look out for changes in children’s behaviour as even small signs may be part of something much more serious. Some signs to note include:
- Self-harm: This can take form in skipping meals, excessive exercise, physical self-harm, isolation and other mental self-harm.
- Significant changes in behaviour: Keep a track of when their mood quickly changes, and ask yourself what may have triggered this change? Does this happen often when they are in this situation?
- Ongoing difficulty sleeping: Sleep can suffer when you are struggling with mental health issues, and in turn poor sleep makes these issues worse. Keep an eye on what time they go to sleep and how long they sleep for. For more information check out our article on the importance of sleep.
- Withdrawing from social situations: If they are avoiding social settings, especially ones they used to feel comfortable in, this may be a sign of anxiety.
- Not wanting to do what they love: There may be a sudden change in what they used to love doing, i.e. wanting to quit the football team even though last week they loved it.
If you have noted some of these changes, it is important to be proactive to make a change in your child’s wellbeing.
Communication is key
Starting a conversation about mental health can be difficult, especially if the child is withdrawn and distant. A good way to start a conversation and engage with them is through an activity.
Try thinking of an activity that both of you like to do – maybe you both enjoy cooking so you could bake or make dinner together?
Whilst you are doing this, try some conversation starters such as: How are you feeling? What did you enjoy doing today? What was the worst bit of your day? What do you want to talk about?
If they decide to confide in you about any difficulties they are experiencing, it is important to not dismiss them. Instead thank them for speaking to you, ask if you can help in anyway or if they would like some external help such as online resources or speaking to a counsellor. After the conversation, think about what may be causing their low mood and what you can do to help.
If they don’t want to talk about it at all, it is important not to push them. Focus on the activity and spend some quality time together chatting about anything they want.
Making an active change
It is important to be aware of what is going on in your child’s life, what responsibilities and stressors could be impacting them at home and at school.
Try thinking about what they need to improve their wellbeing. This could be a quieter space to study at home, a calmer and comfier sleeping environment, or activities to get them moving and socialising.
Ask yourself what you can do now to make an immediate change in their wellbeing. Maybe doing a fun activity together like playing football in the garden or baking, or maybe just having a quick chat about how their day was.
You can also consider what you can do that will make a long-lasting impact. This could be scheduling a regular time to chat every day or week, signing them up for clubs they love, changing their bedroom, or regularly helping with homework.
An important note to add to this is that you must respect their privacy during this time – be there to support them and help them improve their wellbeing. This is about making them mentally healthy and improving your relationship.
MindED has information explaining some common behavioural problems in different age groups.
Young Minds has various resources for supporting parents, including a helpline and guidance.
Action for children has lots of tips for spotting signs of mental health issues and advice on how to help.
Kids Matter similarly runs a programme for parenting children with mental health issues.
Childline provides guidance for children with questions and worries about their mental wellbeing.
It is also important to check out what resources their school has available, such as a campus counsellor or mental wellbeing governor.
The issue of children’s mental health is something we cannot afford to ignore. Parents, families, schools, and friends must all take note of a child’s wellbeing and be willing to actively help. Communication is essential – you must ensure that they know you are there to listen, help, and comfort them no matter what may be troubling them.
Sometimes they may need to talk to someone with qualified training, or you yourself may be struggling and need to speak to someone. At MindSpace we have trusted and highly skilled licensed therapists available 24 hours a day. We can help you take the steps to improve your life, no matter what challenges you are facing in complete confidence. Get some MindSpace, call us on 0207 553 5010.