1 in 10 children and young people experience mental health problems. These problems include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and usually happen in response to what is happening in their lives at a particular point in time.
The mental health & emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows them to develop resilience enough to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.
The following things help children build mental resilience:
- good physical health, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
- time and freedom to play (indoors and outdoors)
- being part of a loving family
Some other factors include:
- recognizing what they’re good at
- feeling understood, loved & valued
- being optimistic
- having the strength to cope when something is wrong (resilience)
- having the ability to solve problems.
- being able to learn and being exposed to opportunities to succeed
- accepting who they are
- having a sense of belonging in their family, school and in the community at large
Most children grow up mentally healthy, but some surveys suggest that today more than ever, children and young people have problems with their mental health. This could be because times are different and has affected the experience of growing up.
Helping kids deal with change
Change can sometimes be a trigger – relocating, dealing with divorce of the parents, loss of a loved one or the birth of a sibling. Teenagers often experience mood swings & emotional turmoil as their minds and bodies develop. Some young people find it hard to make this transition to adulthood and may experiment with alcohol, drugs or other substances that can affect their mental health.
What mental health problems commonly occur in children?
- Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades, but it is still more common in adults. Teenagers are more likely to experience depression than young children.
- Self-harm is a very common problem among young people. Some people find it helps them manage intense emotional pain if they harm themselves, through cutting or burning, for example. They may not wish to take their own life.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause young people to become extremely worried. Very young children or children starting or moving school may have separation anxiety.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can follow physical or sexual abuse, witnessing something extremely frightening of traumatising, being the victim of violence or severe bullying or surviving a disaster.
- Children who are consistently overactive (‘hyperactive’), behave impulsively and have difficulty paying attention may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many more boys than girls are affected, but the cause of ADHD aren’t fully understood.
- Eating disorders usually start in the teenage years and are more common in girls than boys. The number of young people who develop an eating disorder is small, but eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can have serious consequences for their physical health and development.
What help is available?
You will find that children and young people who have a warm, open relationship with their parents, won’t find it difficult to share if they are troubled. Parents can help by listening and by taking their feelings seriously. They may want reassurance or a hug or they may need practical help.
In children and young people, negative feelings often pass. But it is really important that you get help if your child shows signs of distress over long periods of time, if their distress is disrupting family life/routine or you find them repeatedly behaving in ways you would not expect them to at their age.
If you notice or if it is brought to your knowledge that your child has problems at school, a teacher, school nurse, school counsellor or psychologist may be able to help. These professionals should be able to refer a child to further help.
Talking it through
Assessments and treatments for children and young people with mental health problems encourage the child to talk in order to understand the problem. This helps to work out the best way to tackle these issues. This kind of treatment is called talk therapy, psychological therapy or counselling. For younger children, play could be a great tool.