The statistics about children’s mental health in the UK are shocking. So what can we do to help?
In part one of our exclusive new series, This Morning’s resident psychologist Emma Kenny explains the warning signs parents should look out for….
What has gone wrong with our children’s mental health?
It seems that every day there’s a heartbreaking story hitting the headlines, and official government statistics make for shocking reading.
The number of UK children and teenagers diagnosed with mental health problems is growing.
Self-harm rates have tripled during the past five years and teenage suicide has risen in England and Wales by 67% since 2010.
Time and time again, all the evidence suggests that young people in the UK are more unhappy than ever.
But why is this? And what can we do to help?
What is going on?
Mental health affects all children and young people to some degree. For example, many struggle with anxiety and low mood.
On top of this, exam-related stress, relationship issues, family breakdown or personal insecurities will cause most children to feel unhappy, depressed or anxious at some point in their life.
However, while these feelings are usually short-lived, for some children they can trigger more serious problems.
I feel there has never been a more confusing time for young people. We talk constantly about mental health, and we advise children and teens to be honest about their feelings.
But what actually happens when they do open up?
The truth is that resources for children and young people who are struggling are inadequate, and are usually only offered when mental distress levels are acute.
Instead, there should be help available at every level, from the child who simply acknowledges that they “just don’t feel happy”, to those who are at immediate risk of self-harm.
Look for any out-of-character bad behaviour. As a parent, it’s natural to feel upset if your child starts getting into trouble at school on a regular basis.
However, instead of punishing them, bear in mind this behaviour may be a symptom of the way they feel.
Grounding them, or taking their phone away, will not resolve their difficult feelings so put support strategies in place instead, such as seeing the school counsellor.
Lack of interest
Investigate if your child suddenly loses interest in activities they love. Ask them why they’ve stopped.
If they say the activity is “so last week”, chances are they are simply growing up. However, if they can’t put their finger on what has changed and appear less positive than usual, something may be going on behind the scenes that requires attention.
Fits of anger
Unexplained anger can signify something else is going on. Children and teenagers often become very angry when they are feeling lost, anxious or depressed, because these feelings are overwhelming.
If you find yourself butting heads with your once well-behaved child, take a step back from your own feelings so you can deal with theirs.
When you meet anger with empathy, compassion and reassurance, you often break through and find a confused and scared child behind it.
You will find getting to the heart of the issue easier once they have calmed down.
If your child’s mood seems low for any length of time, talk to them. Explain you feel they may be struggling.
Reassure them you’re on their side and want to help. If they tell you everything is OK, don’t push them.
Instead, tell them you are there for them whenever they need you. Then try again in a couple of days.
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