The mental health and emotional well-being of children and young people is as important as their physical health.
Unfortunately, too many children and young people are unhappy, distressed, anxious or even suicidal, often in response to what’s going on around them – at home, in school or the wider community. Young people often feel under pressure to get top grades at school, look a certain way, be good at everything and have lots of friends – social media only adds to the pressure.
Difficult experiences like a death in the family, divorce, changing schools or a change in family circumstances, e.g. homelessness can also trigger a young person’s emotional problems. A child or young person who is being abused or bullied is highly likely to be one in emotional distress.
It’s not always easy to recognise serious emotional distress in a young person, particularly if they are going through puberty, taking exams or having relationship problems, when anxiety and mood swings are normal.
Even if you do realise something more is amiss, it can be hard to get a young person to open up and admit they are feeling low or having thoughts about – or already – hurting themselves.
Signs a young person needs help
Sometimes a young person will open up to a parent or another adult voluntarily, but more often their emotional despair will manifest itself in other ways, including:
These behaviours will usually indicate a deeper emotional problem.
How you can help
It can be very hard to witness your child’s mental pain, and perfectly understandable to want to do something to make it go away. The first thing is to reassure them that they are loved and you are there to help and support them in any way you can.
Make sure they are eating healthily, and getting enough exercise and sleep.
If the problem is down to confidence, help boost their self-esteem by reminding them what they are good at, introducing them to new activities and encouraging them to have goals to work towards.
If a young person is being bullied, speak to their school; if the bullying is in the workplace, encourage them to report it.
If a young person tells you they are being abused, you must report it. Ring the police on 101 or contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, always ring 999.
Seeking professional support
Sometimes, a child or young person’s emotional difficulties are so serious and/or life-threatening they need professional support.
There are separate, specialised mental health services for young people under 18. The kind of treatment is based on an assessment and varies depending on the severity of the young person’s mental health issue.
Make an appointment with your GP and they will get the ball rolling. Sometimes, the severity of their mental illness means a child or young person has to spend some time in hospital; the majority, however, will receive support from within their community, e.g. school-based counselling, seeing a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) or attending a psychiatric day unit.
Young Minds has a survival guide for parents who are worried about their child. There is also a parents’ helpline. Call: 0808 802 5544
MIND has compiled an A-Z of mental health.
C.A.L.L. is a confidential helpline for mental health issues. Call: 0800 132 737
Childline supports children and young people. Call: 0800 1111
Papyrus provides confidential help and advice young people who are feeling suicidal and anyone who is worried about a young person. Call: 0800 068 41 41