Why do we need a Children’s Mental Health Week?
Apparently “they are the best years of your life” but for many children life is depressing, daunting and even frightening. February 8th – 13th is Children’s Mental Health Week. It was launched on Monday by the ambassador of Place2be; Kate Middleton (see her video message here). As part of the launch some pretty shocking statistics were published. They highlighted the degree of problems facing our young people today.
1 in 10 children in this country will suffer with a mental health issue between the ages of 5 – 16. Possibly even more toe curling is that in the past 10 years, children admitted to hospital for self harm has risen by 68%.
Despite this upward trend the solutions are simultaneously being taken away. This is exacerbating the problem. Cuts have meant that our children and young people have less access to appropriate mental health intervention early on; approximately 3 million children do not have consistent access to a school counsellor. Additionally $87million of money earmarked to tackle mental health problems in new mothers and children remains unspent.
The problem with ignoring this growing epidemic is it continues to grow, and so do our children. They will become adolescents and young people ill-equipped to deal with the stresses and strains of adult life. One day they will go onto become parents themselves. If their mental health problems persist they will actually cost the public purse more. By not supporting these children we are condemning them to a life time of mental health issues. Half of the adults accessing support today were children when they were diagnosed but didn’t receive appropriate intervention, with no change to the current situation this will only get considerably worse.
What can we do as parents?
If you are worried about your child’s mental health seek professional support immediately. However you can be proactive as oppose to reactive to reduce the risk mental health problems developing. There are many ways to build up children’s resilience and I will highlight 4 things you can do today to help protect your child.
1. Get active
It’s no secret that exercise is good for dealing with stress. Sport and physical activity has the potential to actually change lives. Northamptonshire Public Health Team have invested in school PE programs to reduce the amount of referrals to the mental health team. Children are demonstrating an improvement in key skills including creativity, empathy and resilience.
As parents we can encourage our children to get involved in physical activity and sports. Every child is different and it would be counter-productive to force them to do something they don’t enjoy but there are so many options to choose from. Get out there and have a go!
2. Teach them to ask for help
Being resilient doesn’t mean doing everything on your own; instead it means to have the ability to cope when life is tough. Sometimes we need the support of other people to do this. If we learn to seek help earlier we can find solutions quicker.
It’s important that children feel they have a wide support network, so make them aware of people they can seek support from other than you.
3. Let them fail
We can’t always win in life and that’s OK. We live in a society that celebrates the perfection of childhood. We want to protect them from every emotional or physical trauma. This doesn’t prepare them for adult life. We don’t want them to lose so we set up competitions where no one comes last. We don’t want them to fall so we literally and metaphorically hold their hand. Let your child lose, let them fall and then be right there beside them when they get back up.
4. Learn to be resilient first
This is without doubt the most important on my list. Children copy what we do, not what we say. Be active, ask for help and show them how you get up when you fall. These are the most powerful actions you can take to protect their mental health.
We MUST take care of our own positive well-being before we can expect anyone else to.
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