How to support children through Mental Health
Mental illness and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, of any age, of any background, at any time. Like with physical illnesses, people don’t choose to have a mental health problem. And they need the appropriate care to get better.
Mental illness and suicidal thoughts are common issues for young people. In 2014-15, nearly a third of concerns expressed to Childline related to mental health. Recent data from Childline has also suggested a sharp increase of children seeking help for anxiety.
It can be difficult to know if a child is suffering as they often keep it to themselves. Here are some ways to help you spot the signs and know how to support them.
Depression and anxiety
Everyone feels down sometimes, but depression is more than this. People with depression feel sad for long stretches at a time – and young people as well as adults can experience this.
This is similar with anxiety. Everyone feels nervous from time to time. But some people find it harder to control anxiety. Children and young people can find it especially difficult to express their feelings and open up to others. If they’re suffering from depression they may feel like there is no hope and find it difficult to imagine ever being happy again. Or, if they’re highly anxious they may be even more worried about talking to someone about how they feel.
Some children may feel like there is no hope or might think about ending their life.
Whilst thinking about suicide is relatively common, very few young people will actually attempt to take their own lives. However even having suicidal thoughts clearly shows someone is unhappy and needs help and support.
It can be difficult to understand what causes suicidal feelings but they’re often triggered by upsetting experiences such as:
- living with mental illness
- experiencing abuse
- bereavement after losing a loved one
- having very low self-worth
Signs and symptoms of mental health issues
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- becoming withdrawn from friends and family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 mod 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
How to support a child
- Visit your child’s GP
Your first step should be visiting the family doctor who can help in a few different ways. They can listen – if your child’s willing to talk to them. They could also refer your child for specialist help if they need it.
- Talk to your child’s school
Speak to the person in charge of child protection for the school or a teacher your child is particularly close to. The school will almost certainly have experience of helping pupils and their families.
- Tell your child about Childline
Childline has trained counsellors who can help your child to talk about the emotions they may be feeling. Childline talk to under 18’s online or over the telephone on 0800 1111. Calls are free and do not show up on itemised phone bills.