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Understanding Mental Health in Children and Young People


Today, we're diving into a topic that touches the heart of our communities - the mental health of our children and young people. It's a complex puzzle, but understanding it is key to working with other adults as an ally to support young people’s wellbeing. Let's explore the nuances, challenges, and the crucial role we all play in supporting the younger minds around us.


Why It Matters:

The seeds of mental health are sown early in life. Did you know that half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, and 75% by age 24? Early intervention is crucial. Addressing mental health early can prevent issues from escalating and ensure young people have the best start in life.


Mental Health vs Mental Illness: Understanding the Spectrum


1. Mental Health: The Foundation of Our Well-being


Mental health is the bedrock of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It's not merely the absence of mental illness but a state of overall wellness. Good mental health enables us to:


  • Cope with the stresses of life

  • Work productively and fruitfully

  • Realize our full potential

  • Contribute meaningfully to our communities


It's a dynamic state, influenced by factors ranging from biological to environmental, and requires nurturing just like our physical health.


2. Mental Illness: When the Balance Tips


Mental illness, on the other hand, refers to conditions that affect a young person's thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior. These conditions can be occasional or long-lasting (chronic) and can affect ability to relate to others and function each day. Common examples include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.


It's crucial to recognize that:

Mental illnesses are real health issues, not personal weaknesses.

They can affect anyone, irrespective of age, gender, or socioeconomic status.

They are often caused by a complex interplay of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.


2. Spotting the Signs and Symptoms


🧡 Early intervention is key in supporting young people with their mental health. But how do we spot the signs?


1. Emotional Signs:


  • Changes in emotion can be significant indicators. Look out for:

  • Persistent sadness or low mood

  • Excessive fears or worries

  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships

  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness


2. Behavioral Changes:


  • Withdrawal from social interactions

  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed

  • A sudden drop in academic performance

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits

  • Engaging in self-harm or risky behaviours


3. Cognitive and Physical Symptoms:


  • Difficulty concentrating or sudden decline in school performance

  • Unexplained aches and pains

  • Excessive tiredness or lack of energy

  • Neglecting personal care or appearance


4. Communication Clues:


  • Frequent complaints of being misunderstood or unheard

  • Talks or writings that regularly mention death, dying, or suicide

  • Expressions of being a burden to others or not being good enough


5. Social Withdrawal:

While it's normal for young people to seek some privacy, complete withdrawal is a red flag:


  • Avoiding friends or social activities they used to enjoy

  • Spending most of the time alone and avoiding family interactions


3. Sources of Support: Navigating the Path to Help


1. Starting the Conversation:


Encourage open, non-judgmental discussions with the young person in your care. Sometimes, just talking about what they're going through can be a huge relief for young people. Being an active listener is crucial.


2. Educational Support:


Schools and colleges often have resources to support the mental health of their students. This includes:

  • Outside School Organizations: Schools sometimes work with other organizations/charities that support young people’s mental wellbeing and can refer them to mental wellbeing programmes or 1:1 Mentoring.

  • School Counselors: They can provide immediate support and guidance.

  • Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs): They support children with complex mental health and learning needs. The young person needs to be referred via their teacher for an assessment with SENCO who recommends further actions.


3. Online Resources and Helplines:


Sometimes, young people may feel more comfortable seeking help anonymously at first. Several organizations/charities offer support:


  • Childline (www.childline.org.uk): Offers confidential support and counselling for children and young people up to the age of 19.

  • The Mix (www.themix.org.uk): Provides free information and support for under 25s in the UK, including phone, email, and web support.

  • YoungMinds (www.youngminds.org.uk): Committed to improving the mental health of children and young people.

  • Mind (www.mind.org.uk): Provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.

  • Rethink Mental Illness (www.rethink.org): Offers support groups, advice, and information for individuals affected by mental illness.

Advocate for mental health resources in schools and communities. If you find something schools and communities could tap into, let them know.


4. Community-Based Support:


Local community centres, youth groups, and charities can be invaluable resources. You can find free dance or boxing classes, volunteering opportunities for young people or working with animals. Find out what the young person in your care is interested in. All these activities help with mental wellbeing.


5. Professional Help:


Seeking professional guidance is often necessary to properly address mental health issues.

This can include:


  • Counsellors or Therapists: They provide a safe space for young people to express their feelings and work through their issues.

  • Psychiatrists: For mental health concerns that might require medication, consulting a psychiatrist is essential.

The initial step in addressing a young person's mental health is to visit their GP. For those over 18, it's important to encourage and support them in making that first appointment to seek professional guidance or referrals. It's also worth noting that some services, like iTalk, don't require a GP referral, allowing young adults over 18 to self-refer and access the support they need directly.


Despite its importance, mental health in young people is often shrouded in stigma. This can prevent them from seeking help.


Fostering open communication within families, schools, and communities ensures that young people know they're not alone and that help is within reach.

The journey of understanding mental health in children and young people is a collective one. It requires empathy, awareness, and action from all the adults in the young person’s life. When we come together: parents, teachers, youth workers, youth mentors, counsellors, youth activities coordinators and all the adults for young people, we can create a sustainable path to mental wellbeing for young people.





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