Following this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week, My Mind News examines how we can best look after children and young people and support them with mental health issues. But in the process, we must not overlook our issues or forget to check in with ourselves.
Key signs to look out for
Around 1 in 8 children and young people experience behavioral or emotional problems growing up. For some, these will resolve with time, while others will need professional support. Knowing if something is upsetting a child or young person can be challenging, but there are ways to spot something wrong. We should always be on the lookout for the following telltale signs –
- ongoing difficulty sleeping
- withdrawing from social situations
- not wanting to do things they usually like
- self-harm or neglecting themselves
It is important to remember that everyone sometimes feels low, angry, or anxious. But when these changes last for a long time or are significantly affecting them, it might be time to seek professional help.
You know your child better than anyone. So if you’re worried, first think if there has been a significant, lasting change in their behavior. This could be at home, school, or college; with others or on their own; or about specific events or changes in their life.
If you’re concerned or unsure, there is lots of support out there, so you should never feel as though you are alone.
Top tips to support children
According to the NHS in the United Kingdon, there are six main ways in which we can support our children and young people and offer them our help with any mental health issues that they may be experiencing –
1. Be there to listen
Regularly ask how they’re doing so they get used to talking about their feelings and know there’s always someone to listen if they want it. Find out how to create a space where they will open up. You might start a conversation with your child in various ways. Some of these can be found here on the YoungMInds website.
2. Stay involved in their life
Show interest in their lives and the things important to them. It helps them value who they are and makes it easier for you to spot problems and support them.
3. Take what they say seriously
Listening to and valuing what they say without judging their feelings makes them feel valued. Consider how to help them process and work through their emotions more constructively.
4. Support them through difficulties
Pay attention to their emotions and behavior, and try to help them work through problems. It’s not always easy when faced with challenging behavior but try to help them understand what they’re feeling and why. Further guidance and advice on providing support can be found here.
5. Encourage their interests
Being active or creative, learning new things, and being a part of a team help connect us with others and are important ways we can all help our mental health. Support and encourage them to explore their interests, whatever they are.
6. Build positive routines
We know it may not be easy, but try reintroducing structure around regular routines, healthy eating, and exercise. A good night’s sleep is also essential – try to get them back into routines that fit with school or college. More information on sleep routines can be found here.
Don’t be afraid to seek help and support
f you’re concerned about a child or young person’s mental health, you can get free, confidential advice via phone, email, or web chat from the Young Minds Parents Helpline.
Action for Children has many tips to help you spot signs of mental health issues in children and advice on the action you can take to help.
Barnardo’s has also set up the See, Hear, Respond support hub – a dedicated service to help children, young people, and their families or carers with problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Experiencing the loss of a friend or loved one can be tricky. The Childhood Bereavement Network has information and links to national and local organizations you or the child you look after might find helpful.
Any professional that works with children and young people should be able to help you get support. You could talk to a teacher, school nurse, social worker, or GP.
You can find more information about NHS children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS) on the NHS website. You can also look at your local Clinical Commissioning Group website, and most services also have their own website with access information, referrals (including whether you can “self-refer”), and contact details – try searching in your area for “CYPMHS” or “CAMHS” (children and adolescent mental health services, an older term used for some CYPMHS).
If you are worried about a child or young person who has or may have an eating disorder, check if your local Children and Young People’s Community Eating Disorder Team accepts self-referrals and contact them as soon as possible. You can also speak to your GP. Beat has lots more helpful advice for children, young people, and adults.
If you look after a child that has additional needs, Mencap, the Mental Health Foundation, and the National Autistic Society all have excellent resources and support for parents or carers of children with learning disabilities or autism.
Don’t forget about your own mental health.
Parenting or caring for a child or young person can be challenging. It’s essential to make sure you look after your own mental wellbeing, as this will help you support yourself and those you care about.
Try to recognize and acknowledge when you’re feeling low or overwhelmed. Struggling with something or experiencing your own mental health problems does not make you a bad parent or carer. It’s normal to be worried, scared, or helpless during difficult times, and feeling this way is nothing to be ashamed of.
Is there a friend, fellow parent, or carer you trust enough to tell how you’re feeling? Maybe there are family, friends, or colleagues who could support you or allow you a break. There’s plenty of help out there. You should never feel like you have to cope on your own.
- Young Minds has lots of support for parents, including a helpline and guidance around parenting with a mental illness.
- Mind has information and suggestions on managing parenting with a mental health problem.
- Scope has advice on managing stress when caring for a disabled child.
My Mind News would love to hear from you about how you support children or young people with their mental health. Tell us more in the comments.