An estimated 10 per cent of children aged 5 to 16 years suffer from ill mental health in the United Kingdom. Like adults, children can display a range of mental health issues, from depression and conduct disorders, to hyperactivity and post-traumatic stress disorder. Managing these problems can often be just as difficult for children as it can be for adults, and coping mechanisms are often harmful and long-lasting. Children’s Mental Health Week takes place from 5th to 11th February 2018 to raise awareness of children suffering with mental health issues in the United Kingdom, using a theme to encourage as many people as possible to get involved.
This year, the theme of Children’s Mental Health Week is ‘Being Ourselves’. The theme promotes children to think positively of themselves, in order for them to feel confident and happy—and to reinforce the sense that having a high self-esteem makes it easier for children to cope with life’s struggles and connect better with other people. Participants are encouraged to highlight the most unique aspects of their personalities, and embrace the things that set them apart from everybody else, while encouraging others to do the same and accepting people’s differences.
There are many ways that you can get involved in Children’s Mental Health Week. By using the hashtag #BeingOurselves you can help to spread the word about the event on social media. Schools and organisations wanting to get involved can make use of the free resources available on the Children’s Mental Health Week website, where there is also a list of ideas for getting involved.
Undoubtedly, the best way that you can help to spread awareness of children’s mental health this week is by taking some time to learn more about the issue. Being able to spot the signs that a child or young person is struggling is just the first step towards equipping yourself to handle a situation. Taking the time to understand the varied list of mental health problems that children might be suffering will deepen your understanding of how to deal with a child in your care who is going through a tough time. It is also a good idea to research the causes and reasons why a child might be suffering with poor mental health. Finally, you should learn the best contacts to help you or a child to talk through their problems and seek the help that they need.
We’ve collected together some information to help you begin your learning, including a list of useful websites and resources where you can learn more information.
What are some of the signs that a child might be suffering from poor mental health?
There are many warning signs that a child or young person may be going through a mental health crisis. Some of these will be relatively easy to notice whereas other may be much more difficult to spot. Always remember that different mental health issues present themselves in complicated ways. Some of the signs to look out for include:
- Self-harm marks and scars, or witnessing a child self-harming
- Behavioural changes or acting out of character for no obvious reason
- Intense or powerful reactions to emotional situations that would not be considered ‘normal’
- Complaining of stomach aches, headaches and dizziness
- Changes in mood, especially severe and noticeable mood swings
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Substance abuse
Often, a child will display more than one of these signs, but you should not ignore any of the above indicators and should always pay close attention to children who present only one of these behaviours.
Which are the most common mental health issues that children suffer?
Broadly speaking, if an adult can experience a mental health problem, it is likely that a child can experience it too—though sometimes it may be to a lesser degree. Here are some of the most common mental health issues that children face in the United Kingdom:
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD)
- Mood disorders
- Autism spectrum disorders
Please keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive and that there are a wide variety of other mental health issues that children might experience. It is often possible for a child to display more than one problem at a time.
Why might a child be suffering from poor mental health?
In our online child protection training courses, we list several possible factors that might cause a child to experience poor mental health. It is not possible to pinpoint every single cause of mental health issues, as children cope with individual circumstances in different ways. There are simply too many factors to list. However, these are some of the more common circumstances that might negatively impact a child’s mental health:
- Parents separating or divorcing
- Having a parent who also has mental health problems, or drug and alcohol problems
- Death of a loved one
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Discrimination (racism, sexism, religious discrimination)
- Homelessness or living in poverty
- Acting as a young carer for a relative, or otherwise needing to take on adult responsibilities
- Long-term illness
Remember that in certain circumstances, a child’s poor mental health may not have a single, definable cause. It is also possible for children to suffer from delayed reactions to events that have happened in their past, the memories of which might be triggered by current events or conversation. Children sometimes do not immediately realise that their mental health issues are happening in reaction to an event in their lives, or do not understand the cause of their problems.
How can I help a child who is suffering with mental health issues?
The amount of support you need to give to a child suffering from mental health issues is largely dependent on individual circumstances and the problems they are suffering from. However, there are some systems in place that have been set up to help children dealing with a wide range of mental health issues. For example, a child might benefit from speaking to a school counsellor or educational psychologist if access is available, because these professionals will be trained to handle the different types of mental health issues and will know which outside organisations to contact if necessary.
Parental help should be sought if you are sure that the child’s mental health problems are not a direct response to something that has happened to them at home (for example, in situations where abuse has occurred). Often, parents will be unaware of the extent to which their child is suffering and will typically be very supportive and willing to help in any way that they can.
In some cases, a child may need to visit their local GP to seek help. This can come in the form of a referral to the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), a course of prescription medication, or regular visits to a psychologist operating in the doctor’s surgery who will be able to make a better assessment of the child’s mental health needs.
If it seems like a child does not want to talk to you about their problems, don’t be disheartened and definitely don’t pressure them to feel like they have to talk. This can often have the opposite effect and will drive the child away. It is important to build an environment that is supportive, positive, and one in which the child feels that their needs are respected. You can provide them with numbers to confidential advice and counselling services such as ChildLine, and reinforce the idea that there is always a solution to dealing with mental health issues.
Most importantly, if you suspect that a child is at immediate risk of danger to themselves or others, if you feel that abuse may have occurred or is likely to happen, or if a child expresses suicidal thoughts or behaviours, you should contact the emergency services in the first instance and/or report the situation to your organisation’s Designated Safeguarding Lead Person.
For further information about children’s mental health and the various services available to help a young person in need of support, here is a list of websites you might find useful: