With one in eight children suffering from some form of mental health issue during their childhood years, it is important that we as parents and teachers are able to understand what this means for our children and how we can support them.
The mental health support charity Mind describes poor mental health as finding, “the ways you're frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, or even worse.”
The Signs of Mental Health Struggles in Young People
It can be hard to straight away spot if a child is suffering from a mental health issue, as they tend to be pretty good at hiding them. However, there are some things you can keep an eye out for:
- Changes in mood. If you know a child well, you will be able to tell when their mood has changed. This might be that they seem withdrawn, sad, grumpy and irritable, or quite the opposite. They may suddenly begin to exhibit signs of extreme happiness and giddiness, when the circumstances would not usually lead to such emotions.
- Changes to sleeping patterns. A child might sleep too much or not enough, both can be detrimental to their health. This is something you would easily notice as a parent, but could be more difficult as a teacher for obvious reasons.
- Changes to eating habits. Again, this can go both ways. Eating too much can be a sign of mental health issues, just the same as eating too little can too. Knowing what is normal behaviour of a child and noticing when changes take place is key here.
- Changes to behaviour. This can include a whole host of different things, but often entails the child withdrawing from something they enjoyed, or becoming less social. Included in this section could also be self-harm. This is particularly difficult to talk about, but noticing if your child has marks on their body, or starts covering up more can be a sign that self-harm is taking place.
What Can You Do?
It can be hard for a parent or teacher to know what to do for the best when they suspect a child is suffering from mental health problems. But there is no need to go it alone. If you are the parent, speaking to your GP is a great way to open communication with professionals about your child’s mental health. Your GP can refer you to specialists (such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and give you advice on how to support your child with specific issues.
- Keep an eye on your child. Check for any changes in their behaviour and mood. If you notice changes and you feel able to talk to your child about them there and then, do so. If you need advice on how to broach the subject, speak to your GP, the child’s teacher or a charity for support.
- Keep open communication between you and your child. An honest and open relationship between you and your child can go a long way when it comes to tackling mental health issues. Encourage your child to be honest with you by being honest with them.
- Seek advice and refer to professionals if you are concerned. The NHS gives great advice here on where you can find mental health support and when you need to seek medical advice NHS Advice.
- Keep up to date. It is important for people who work with children, such as teachers, social workers and GPs carry out CPD training on Children’s Mental Health.
Remember that mental health is just as important as physical health. If you suspect a child to be suffering then do not ignore it.
If you are a parent, follow the steps above and seek advice where needed. If you are a teacher, then follow your school’s policy and keep open communication with parents.
It is important that children get the help they need when they are young, and by following the steps above, you are helping them to receive that.