A Crisis in Children's Mental Health
Most people are now aware that we are facing a mental health crisis in our children. For those who don't know, a recent study found that 1 in 10 14 year old boys and 1 in 4 14 year old girls, felt they were depressed. NHS figures have also confirmed a shocking rise in the treatment of self harming incidents amongst young people.
Both my teenagers have their own mental health struggles. It is one of the main reasons that I chose mental health as an area to focus on in my "Socially Conscious Charter". Having taught in secondary schools for a number of years, I was very aware of the extent of the issue. But, it was still a shock when it happened to my own children.
We are luckier than many.
- It has brought us closer together
- We have a very open relationship in which they've felt able to speak up about it
- I had experienced my own struggle so had some understanding of what they were going through.
That is not the case for many children though. When I spoke to my daughter about it, she identified children in care as a group particularly at risk and whom she would like us to help. Pretty insightful for a 13 year old with learning difficulties!
How We're Trying to Help Children's Mental Health
There are no easy answers to solving our mental health crisis - if there was, there wouldn't be such an escalation in the problem.
Like many others, I have my thoughts and opinions on what is adding to the crisis:
- An education system that constantly tests and pressurises children to achieve results
- The growth of social media and focus on aesthetics
- More obvious causes such as trauma and early childhood experiences.
Research is being done on these areas and more.The likelihood is that there isn't just one thing to blame but a concoction that has brewed in our modern, digital lives.
As there are no obvious answers, I chose to turn to my child who was experiencing the problem herself. I asked her what she felt needed to be done. We both identified that there was a need for a preventative strategy as well as support for those children already suffering with mental health problems.
But what could we, at The Word Professor do?
We're not some big, global business (yet) and so needed something small we could accomplish. In agreement with my daughter, we identified some children's books we knew about that could help.
A Christmas Gift for Children in Care
My daughter was also keen that children learn that it is okay to be different. From this we identified two other books:
With Christmas fast approaching, I was putting together a £99 strategy call package to help businesses plan their content in the lead up to Christmas and New Year. It suddenly occurred to me that this is likely to be a particularly difficult time of year for any child who is in care.
It was time to combine the two ideas.
I decided that for every one of those packages sold, I would purchase one of each of these books as a gift for a child care. Essentially, by having a strategy call with me, a business would be providing 3 Christmas presents for looked after children that could potentially help them with their mental wellbeing.
It's not huge but it is a start.
How Can You Help A Child with Mental Health Issues?
It wouldn't feel right leaving this post here without offering some help on how to help a child with mental health issues. I know how lost and alone it can make you feel when you discover your child is suffering. Below you can find my tips (these are things that have helped us to make progress) and links to websites of organisations that can help and offer advice.
1. Visit your GP and get a referral straight away. The waiting list for CAHMS is long.
2. Get outside. A quick walk in the fresh air can really help after a few days. Getting them to go is the issue!
3. Look for local groups and support online.
4. Don't ever dismiss how your child feels or suggest that they're overreacting/being dramatic etc. Take what they say seriously.
5. Don't be afraid to ask the difficult questions - have they had suicidal thoughts? It is better to know.
6. Keep your mind open to everything. Investigate the alternative therapies and try things out.
7. Read up on the subject so you're informed.
8. Let your child know that you might not have all the answers but you are there for them.
9. Lead by example - many teenagers will want to do the opposite of what you suggest! But, they may notice something you're doing and secretly give it a go. This can be exercise, using lots of positive language, being grateful and much more.
10. If your child struggles to talk to you, try and find another way they'll communicate. For example, they may prefer to write down their thoughts in a notebook and then leave it for you to read. I used to get paper aeroplane notes flown down the stairs!
In terms of other places you can go for help or support, take a look at the following websites: