Let's talk Children and Young People's Mental Health
Let's start by answering simply what it means to have a mental health problem. So a mental health problem is a change in thought, mood and/or behaviour that impairs functioning. In this article, I cover the basics of the different levels of mental health, the importance of reducing risk and increasing your child’s resilience and who you can speak to in order to get some further help or advice if you need it.
Positive mental health in children and young people is feeling loved, trusted, understood, valued and safe and because of this they will be interested in life and have opportunities to enjoy and express themselves. They will feel hopeful and optimistic and be able to learn and have ample opportunities to succeed. Having positive mental health means your child will be able to accept who they are and recognise that they are good at somethings and have a sense that they belong in their family, school and community. They will have a feeling that they have some control over their own life and also have the resilience and strength to overcome an issue when something is wrong or a problem needs solving.
Mental health problems can interfere with a child’s ability to learn, enjoy friendships and relationships and deal with any difficulties that they face. Your child may become anxious or frightened and lose interest or withdraw from the things and people they like and/or have difficulties concentrating. They could also become aggressive or disruptive and get into trouble with an authority.
Mental disorders are more severe and complex and they are persistent difficulties that do not get easily resolved and will interfere with the child’s everyday life. These may require specialist help and they can affect the lives of others as well as the child themselves. Examples are emanation disorders where anxiety and low mood can affect their ability to lead a ‘normal’ life. It is said that around ten percent of children have significant and enduring Mental Disorders, which is sadly increasing due to the pandemic.
Mental illnesses are severe disorders that have got a significant biological basis and they can emerge in mid to late adolescence. These conditions mean that the young person is often out of touch with reality, and they may deny or be unaware of the severity of the problem and could therefore become a significant risk to themselves. The most common mental illnesses are psychosis, severe clinical depression and extreme forms of anorexia.
Promoting positive mental health isn’t a specialist skill, it is something that all of us do every day without realising it! In order to increase positive mental health we need to reduce risk and increase resilience for the person.
So what are the risk factors? They could be: low self-esteem, negative thinking style, family instability, peer rejection, school failure, emotional trauma, isolation, discrimination or lack of access to support services, amongst others.
So what can we do? We therefore need to help reduce the above risks and at the same time increase the child’s resilience. This is their ability to adapt to difficult situations. When stress or trauma strikes, they might still experience anger, grief or pain, but are able to keep functioning, both physically and psychologically.
Dr Ginsbury, child paediatrician and human development expert proposes that there are 7 integral and interrelated components that make up being resilience.
The 7 C’s of resilience are:
Competence: This is when we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills - this will lead to competence. We undermine competence when we don't allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.
Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.
Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.
Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.
Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.
Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.
Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.
Difficulties arise in children that don’t have sufficient resilience and/or have not developed the attributes that are needed to promote and sustain positive mental health. These could be behavioural problems, anxiety, self-hard, low mood or attachment problems. As parents and carers we need to be available to reinforce the positive and encourage what is working well and then offer guidance on what might need changing in order to make things better.
Some people you can talk to that will be able to help and guide you are:
- Your GP
- Health visitors
- School Nurses
- Young Minds
I developed my wide range of Mental Health boxes to support children and their parents and believe our boxes will make a big difference to you and your family. You can find out more about them here: https://shop.katiesclassroom.com/collections/mental-health-and-wellbeing
In my next blog I will be giving you some useful and practical resources such as websites, apps and books that may also help you to help your children with their mental health. Look out for this next month!