Charity YoungMinds helps young people struggling with their mental health. To mark World Mental Health Day, they share some valuable advice for parents on how to recognise mental health issues in their children…
There is a mental health crisis affecting children and young people in the UK. On average, three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition, while many more go through periods of high anxiety or feeling overwhelmed.
Sadly, recent research suggests that problems may be getting worse. The number of children arriving in A&E with a mental health problem has more than doubled since 2010, while 90% of senior teachers say that they’ve seen a rise in anxiety and depression over the last five years.
The recent Millennium Cohort Survey suggested that almost a quarter of girls and one in 10 boys show symptoms of depression at the age of 14. Mental health problems in university are also rising, with five times more students disclosing conditions than was the case 10 years ago.
Many factors can influence mental health. We know that young people face a huge range of pressures, including stress at school, bullying, and the pressures created by social media and being available around the clock. Difficult experiences in childhood – like bereavement or domestic violence – can also have a serious impact, often several years down the line.
To make matters worse, it is often a challenge for those who are struggling with their mental health to get professional help. Because it’s so hard to get treatment in some areas, problems can grow more severe. All too often, we hear from young people who have started to self-harm or dropped out of school during the long wait for treatment.
It can also be really difficult for parents to know when to be worried about their children, or what to do if they think their child is struggling with their mental health. Of course, most children and teenagers go through ups and downs up, and it’s normal for young people to express raw emotions and change moods quickly when they’re learning how to cope with new situations.
But if your child is consistently struggling – for example, if you see big changes in their sleeping or eating patterns, or if they seem to be upset over a long period of time – it’s important to take it seriously.
Parents usually know instinctively when something’s wrong, so trust your judgement. If you’re worried, talk to your child and listen to what they have to say without judgment. Make sure they know that you’re on their side. Try not to jump in and offer advice too quickly. And ask them what they think would help, as they may have good ideas about how to solve their own problems.
And if you’re worried, it’s also worth taking your child to see a GP, or calling the YoungMinds parents helpline on 0808 802 5544. The helpline offers free advice and support to any adult worried about the mental health of a child or young person under 25, and our staff and volunteers will be able to talk about what your child is going through and what your options are.
It’s also crucial for parents to look after themselves, as it’s far harder to support your child if you’re feeling stressed or anxious. So if your child is having problems, don’t be too hard on yourself. And if things are getting you down, talk to someone you trust and see what they think.
Mental health isn’t an easy subject to talk about for children or for parents. Although there is far greater awareness than in the past, it can still be extremely difficult for children to admit that they’re struggling to cope – and for parents to tell other people about what’s happening.
Having a mental health problem can be extremely isolating, and that’s why we want to spread the message that, if a young person is struggling to cope, they’re not alone.
So today, on World Mental Health Day, we are calling on people up and down the country to say #HelloYellow: we want you to wear something yellow, and to share a mental health message to show support for those who are struggling with their mental health.
Across the country, hundreds of schools and businesses, as well as thousands of people of all ages, are taking part, standing alongside young people with mental health problems and raising money to support our work. If you’re able to join us, please do.
To find out more, visit youngminds.org.uk/helloyellow