Children and young people’s mental health is everybody’s business and having an awareness of mental health issues enables us to better identify and support children and young people in need. Mental/emotional health and family relationships have been the most talked about issues in Childline counselling sessions with children and young people over the last three years with 8,849 counselling sessions specifically relating to parental divorce and separation1. Children and young people whose parents are separating or have separated or divorced are at risk of developing mental health problems. Although this does not necessarily mean that the child will experience problems or have difficulties, the risk is there.
1. Number of Childline counselling sessions about parental divorce/separation: 2014/15=3016, 2015/16=3186, 2016/17=2647
With mental health on the agenda NACCC’s Chief Executive would like to ensure that parents and family using contact centres and anyone working or volunteering at a contact centre are aware of the various problems that a child might be going through which may not have been identified. The earlier a child can receive support the better. This is where mental health first aid comes in.
What are the signs of mental health problems?
All children are different but some of the common signs of mental health problems in children include:
- becoming withdrawn from friends and family
- persistent low mood and unhappiness
- tearfulness and irritability
- worries that stop them from carrying out day to day tasks
- sudden outbursts of anger directed at themselves or others
- loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
- problems eating or sleeping
Mental health problems affecting children and young people
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.
Generalised 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 causes 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.
Worried about a child?
Contact NSPCC’s trained helpline counsellors for 24/7 help, advice and support. firstname.lastname@example.org 0808 800 5000.
Help for parents
YoungMinds have produced a Parents’ survival guide which might be helpful to suggest to parents and families using your centre.
Guidance for child contact centres
Elizabeth Coe has formed links with the organisation Young Minds who deliver Mental Health First Aid courses aimed at people working with young people, and also those working with younger children. She is in dialogue with them regarding them delivering a tailored course aimed specifically at child contact centre staff and volunteers. The course would enable participants from a wide range of backgrounds to consider how, through their role:
- They can promote the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.
- Identify early mental health problems and work together with others to improve access to services and support.
If you would like to find out more about a course then please do let us know.
First aid with panic attacks “very good, helpful, stimulating”
Kathleen from Chichester CCC has written in about some recent training from Mind at their centre on mental health awareness, particularly in dealing with panic attacks… “The MIND speaker was able to relate to what we did very well and has given us food for thought as regards to what we need to do in pre contact meetings where mental health issues are raised.” She went on to say “The speaker also signposted us to some free workshops Mind were running locally that may be useful in general terms, complimented us on our ideas and ‘calm demeanour and voices’ – after all most of us have worked or are still working in caring professions anyway – and updated us on how best to offer ‘first aid’ with any panic attacks. Well worth the time and effort we spent organising the session.”