World Mental Health Day is on 10th October 2018. This year’s focus is on young people and mental health in a changing world.
Research tells us that mental health related problems often begin in childhood and continue to affect those struggling throughout their life.
Good mental health really does begin in infancy.
You might have heard people talk about ‘mental health being equal to physical health’ and we couldn’t agree more. Mental health is central to everyone’s well-being, this includes, children, adolescents, young adults, adults and older people.
With the focus this year on young people we wanted to begin by noting some key statistics:
- 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.
There are around 11.7 million adolescents in the UK so this percentage means that over 2.5 million adolescents are affected.
- 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 24. That’s nearly ¾ of our young people affected.
- 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70% of children and adolescence who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
I think we can all agree that these statistics are alarming; particularly that 70% of children haven’t received support. It’s no wonder why so many adults are struggling. The emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with life’s adversities and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults who thrive.
What can we do to support our young people?
- Good physical health is imperative to good mental health, the two support each other. This includes eating a balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Having time to just be young people. To explore, to learn and discover. The freedom to play is crucial for their development on multiple levels.
- Being part of a network. This could be interpreted as a family, a team, a club, a close group of friends. It’s the connection and support network that is essential to thriving and growing developmentally.
- Taking part in activities that support young people.
- Teaching young people about healthy living, healthy minds and healthy relationships.
Additional factors which are also important for young people:
- Feeling loved, valued, safe and understood.
- Being given opportunities to learn
- Learning about and accepting who they are and recognizing their strengths
- Having a sense of belonging (this feeds into the need for a network and that connection).
- Knowing who to turn to when they can’t manage
There are many factors that can put a child or a young person at a greater risk of developing a mental health problem, and some of these include:
- Having a long-term physical illness
- Having a parent who has had mental health problems, problems with alcohol or has been in trouble with the law
- Experiencing the death of someone close to them
- Having parents who separate or divorce
- Having been severely bullied or physically or sexually abused
- Living in poverty or being homeless
- Experiencing discrimination, perhaps because of their race, sexuality or religion
- Acting as a carer for a relative, taking on adult responsibilities
- Having long-standing educational difficulties.
Common mental health problems for children and young people may include: depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders.
Whilst this is might feel alarming, there is a lot of support available out there. If we were all to take equal responsibility for the children around us it would go a long way.
Being someone who a young person can talk to, is key to supporting them. Being a young person is a difficult and a challenging time with many hurdles… And that’s without mentioning the mix of hormones around the body when reaching puberty. The most helpful thing that adults can do to help is, to listen and take the young person’s feelings seriously. Validation and acceptance that not feeling ok, is ok. They may just want a hug or need practical help, whatever they need, the best way to find out is to listen.
Remind children that it’s ok to feel like this, no one feels happy all the time.
The ‘negative’ feelings will usually pass. Take this time to note them, to explore them, and to talk about them. What might that be? What might it be from? It’s a difficult feeling but it will get better.
It’s a good idea to get help if a child is distressed for a long time. Particularly, if their perceived negative feelings are stopping them from getting on with their lives, if their distress is disrupting their family life, or if they are repeatedly behaving in ways that you would not expect them to at their age.
Here is a list organisations who can support a child or young person should they need professional help:
The Tomorrow Project
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide)
Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC)
Ultimately, good mental health begins in infancy and if we all came together in supporting the young people in society we would make a huge impact.