Updated: Aug 26, 2021
It is alarming to learn that 75% of children and young people who experience mental health issues just aren’t getting the help they need. A child's emotional wellbeing is just as important as their physical health. When a child is mentally strong, it helps them develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them as they then grow into well-rounded, emotionally regulated healthy adults.
Here are things that help keep children and young people mentally well:
being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular exercise
having time and freedom to play, indoors and outdoors
being part of a family that gets along well most of the time
going to a school that looks after the wellbeing of all its pupils
taking part in local activities for young people
Other factors are also important, including:
feeling loved, trusted, understood, valued, and safe
being interested in life and having opportunities to enjoy themselves
being hopeful and optimistic
being able to learn and having opportunities to succeed
accepting who they are and recognising what they are good at
having a sense of belonging in their family, school, and community
feeling they have some control over their own life
having the strength to cope when something is wrong (resilience) and the ability to solve problems.
Most children grow up mentally healthy, but a more recent survey suggests that more children and young people have problems with their mental health as opposed to children and young people 30 years ago.
What can affect a child's mental health?
Events that are traumatic trigger mental health problems for children and young people who are already in a vulnerable state. These include children or young people that are
having a long-term physical illness
a parent who has had mental health problems, problems with alcohol or has been in trouble with the law
the death of someone close to them
parents who separate or divorce
experiencing severe bullying or physical or sexual abuse
poverty or homelessness
caring for a relative, taking on adult responsibilities
having long-lasting difficulties at school.
Furthermore, changes will usually act as triggers, and these are moving home or school, or even the birth of a new sibling. Some children who start school feel excited about making new friends and doing new activities, but there may also be some who feel anxious about entering new environments.
As teenagers often experience the most hormonal changes, these trigger emotional turmoil. A big part of growing up is figuring out who you are and then accepting it however, some young people find it hard to make this transition to adulthood and experiment with alcohol, or other substances that affect overall mental health.
What mental health problems commonly occur in children?
Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades.
Self-harm, some people find it helps create a physical release of intense emotional pain if they harm themselves physically.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause young people and children to become intensely worried. Children starting or moving schools may display a form of separation anxiety.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can follow physical or sexual abuse, witnessing something extremely frightening or traumatising, being the victim of violence or severe bullying or surviving a car accident or natural disaster.
Children who are consistently overactive, impulsive and have difficulty paying attention may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
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 have serious consequences for their overall physical health and future development.
I’m worried about my child – what can I do?
The best way you can help your child is by listening to them and seeking out a professional mental health professional. Your teenager might not feel comfortable talking to you and would need time to build a therapeutic relationship with a professional. Your child's doctor may also refer you to a specialist such as a counselor who is trained to help them explore their feelings and behaviour. Medication may also help in some cases after they have been assessed.
Treatment for children and young people often involves talking through the problem in order to work out the best way to tackle it, however, they don't always work for all children or young people. Play Therapy is often offered to children or young people in these situations, "play" is a less intimidating form of therapy and allows children and young people to work through their issues safely.