Before we can look at this we need to look at what mental health actually is:
Mental health includes not only our emotional wellbeing but our social and psychological wellbeing as well. It is important to think about as it is used throughout the whole of our lives. It helps us deal with stress, interact with others and impacts on the choices that we make.
If we are having problems with our mental health we could see that our mood, behaviour and even our thinking could be affected.
Identifying poor mental health.
It is so important to identify poor mental health in children and young people and provide support for them as early as possible as it has been shown that half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14. If we don’t address this with the appropriate care then there is risk of this continuing into adulthood. Mental health problems are not unusual and can be relatively common, but we are seeing so many children and young people not getting the help they need as quickly as they should. This results in our children suffering anxiety, having eating disorders, suffering low mood and depression. It can stop young people from reaching their full potential, achieveing what they want to in life and also making a full contribution to society.
What can cause problems to our mental health?
There can be many reasons why people suffer with mental health problems. It can be down to the trauma that we have faced from life experiences or abusive situations. It can be down to biological factors, which include our genetics or how our brain is wired. Or it can be down to there being a family history of mental health issues.
Since the pandemic we have seen a substantial rise in mental health problems in our children and young people. The reason for this is because they are at a crucial stage of their development, which has made them more vulnerable to the negative impacts of COVID 19. We have lived in a world full of fear, fear of infection or of dying. We stopped our children from going to school or socialising with their friends. We have kept them indoors and if we did leave, we imposed physical distancing. There has been this constant threat of financial hardship hanging over our heads.
Children have found it very difficult to cope with online schooling, not being able to access help and support from their teachers or friends and not having the routines that can keep some children grounded.
Families have found it hard to manage and cope, as there has been financial worries and job concerns. This impacted on how families interacted with each other and what information children were exposed to.
Children and young people who accessed special needs education, those children who lived in homes which are unstable and those children who did not have access to digital tools or devices were most at risk of falling behind as we started to shut down and our schooling moved to online. This impacted on how children felt about themselves. They could not escape certain situations and did not have the social network of friends to turn to for help and support.
Some children have been seen to have an increase in anger and frustration due to circumstances of having to stay indoors. The loss of relationships and activities only fueled the feeling of loneliness, grief, helplessness and worry.
Our use of technology has rocketed since the beginning of the pandemic. We have used it to stay connected, to learn virtually, to socialise with our friends and family and to keep up to date with what is happening in the world. It has been an amazing tool, but one that has also caused us problems. Young people have been turning to social media to escape but this has not helped in their anxiety, depression and stress. We have consumed news about the state of the world, which has been miserable and this has impacted on how we feel about ourselves.
What can we do to tackle this?
We need to embed support for our children and young people from as early as possible within our communities. In order to maintain positive mental health we need to make sure we give opportunites for people to connect with others, we need to push opportunities for our children to access physical activity and we need to teach them ways in which to try and stay positive. We need to help our children cope by giving them the skills to do this.
As parents and educators we need to be there for our children and listen to them, asking regular questions and checking in with how they are feeling. We need to encourage children’s interests, as being active and partaking in an activity is a great way for children to mix with other like minded people. We need build positive rountines around them, making sure they have a healthy diet, exercise and have a sleep rountine. We need to stay involved with their lives, and in that way we build strong relationships with them and can then spot if anything is wrong. If we are doing this we can make sure we are there when they need us, supporting them through those difficult times. We can be someone they can turn to, to confide in. This is not always easy as dealing with difficult behaviour can be challenging but we need to try and help them understand what they are feeling and why.
We need to make sure there are professionals out there that can help, and these are accessible for everyone. There are many organisations that can help whether you are a parent, child or professional. Young minds has a parent helpline where parents can access free help via phone, email or webcaht. Barnardo’s has set up See, Hear, Respond support hub which is a dedicated service to help children, young people and their families or carers with problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak, and action for children has many hints and tips to spot the signs of any mental health issues someone might be worried about.
Within our communities we can turn to our GP’s, a trained therapist, have peer support, use community support services such as community mental health teams (CMHTs), social care services, and crisis resolution and home treatment teams (CRHTs or 'crisis teams').
Unfortunately we are seeing more and more children and young people struggling with their mental health and we are at a breaking point. We need more funding from the government to address this matter. The government have set out COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing recovery action plan. The plan is to prevent, mitigate and respond to the mental health impacts of the pandemic during 2021 to 2022. Their objectives are ‘to support the general population to take action and look after their mental wellbeing, to prevent the onset of mental health difficulties, by taking action to address the factors which play a crucial role in shaping mental health and wellbeing outcomes for adults and children and to support services to continue to expand and transform to meet the needs of people who require specialist support.’ The government have promised millions to help support services.
Starting the journey to getting better is difficult but I hope that what you have read here has helped you find the confidence to talk to your child or young person. To be able to begin to see that there are steps we can take to help and support and there are organisations we can turn to if we need to. We need to work together in this as we can't do it alone, and we need to have the underdstanding about why this is happening and what we can do to try and tackle it and to make things better.