Mental health professionals have been pushing for mental health awareness and recognition across the UK. In 2021, it was found that 1 in every 6 children is experiencing a mental health condition. However, Shawmind is working towards providing schools and parents with the resources they need to reduce the number of children facing mental health problems.
If you’re worried about a child or you are wanting to maintain their good mental health, we will be discussing what you can do as a parent, carer or educator.
Understanding children’s mental health
Mental health is defined as a person’s overall psychological well-being. Measurements of mental health include cognitive, emotional and social functioning, including self-esteem, measurements of happiness, how the individual handles stress and more how they interact with others.
Factors that can impact children’s mental health
There are many factors that impact a child’s mental health, including:
- Exposure to stresses
- Eating habits
- Economic stance
- School environment
- Home environment
What types of mental health problems can children experience?
Children can experience a wide range of mental health problems. Here are a few common mental health problems children may experience.
- Anxiety disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Mood disorders such as depression
- Eating disorders
- Trauma and stress disorders
How to recognise mental health problems in children
Although many adults may find it difficult to speak about their mental health, young children are more vulnerable in society and can often find it difficult to comprehend their own mental health experiences.
Pre-teens and teens may not speak up about their mental health out of worry they may not be understood or believed. This means it is the responsibility of the adults in their life to recognise any potential signs of poor mental health.
Here are a few signs to recognise childhood mental illness.
Changes in mood or behaviour
If a child has had a sudden switch in their behaviour or mood, this could be a sign of a deeper issue.
Whether it is sudden weight loss, headaches, fatigue or stomach aches, some mental health problems can manifest into physical symptoms. Some children may also pretend to be physically ill as a way of communicating a deeper issue that they struggle to explain.
Just like adults may struggle to sleep when experiencing anxiety, dealing with stress, depression or other mental health problems, children are the same. Sudden changes in sleeping habits can be a symptom of poor mental health.
One of the more obvious tell-tale signs of a mental health issue. If you detect signs of a child self-harming, this is a serious sign of a deeper mental health problem that needs immediate treatment.
Poor academic behaviour or performance
If a child’s behaviour and academic performance makes a drastic turn for the worse, it is worth investigating, as it could be a sign of poor mental health.
Changes in social habits
Sudden withdrawal from friends, family and teachers and a lack of interest in their usual hobbies and interests can be a sign of poor mental health.
Strategies for supporting children’s mental health at home
Shawmind is an early intervention charity. Our aim is to prevent people from experiencing mental health issues by raising awareness on how to create a mental health positive environment.
As a parent or carer, it is your responsibility to make sure your child’s mental health is supported in the home. Here are a few tips on how to create a safe and supportive environment for your child at home so they don’t experience mental health conditions.
Children feel more safe and secure when they have structure in their lives. Establish a routine for meals, bedtimes and activities. This can also improve their sleep, which can improve their mental health overall.
Open communication policy
Children should feel safe enough to express their emotions and be their true selves. Part of being a supportive parent or carer is to listen to their feelings without judgement, provide emotional support and encourage open dialogue.
Practise positive reinforcement
Recognise any key achievements and positive behaviours with praise and reward to build their self-esteem. Positive self-esteem lays the foundations for good mental health.
Encourage physical activity
Physical health has a large influence over our mental health. Physical activity can release endorphins which are good for the brain and spending time with parents/carers doing physical activities is enjoyable for children.
Limit screen time
Children should have limited access to screen time, even as teenagers. You should encourage activities such as reading, going outdoors, creative play and productive hobbies which can be positive for their mental wellbeing and self-esteem. Social media access should be limited and should be accessed in accordance with the app’s guidelines; all social media access should be monitored to ensure the child’s safety – both physically, mentally and emotionally.
Provide a balanced diet
Processed and sugary foods and drinks have been shown to negatively impact physical and mental health. Children should be provided with a balanced diet that is nutritious, healthy and appropriate for them.
Model healthy behaviours
Children need healthy role models to take after. As a parent or carer, you should model healthy behaviour such as emotional regulation, open dialogue, healthy eating habits, physical exercise, self-care and accessing professional help when you need it.
Strategies for supporting children’s mental health at school
Children and young people spend a large portion of their lives in a school environment, so it is important that schools do everything they can to ensure their environment is healthy and positive.
A negative school environment can cause mental health issues in children, so here are a few strategies schools can implement to improve the mental health of students.
A positive school environment means children are more likely to feel safe, secure, open about their feelings and comfortable expressing their personality. Schools can foster a positive environment by:
- Promoting diversity
- Encouraging involvement in extracurricular activities
- Providing student leadership positions
- Creating a culture of respect and empathy
- Encouraging physical activity
- Celebrating student achievements
- Addressing bullying and discrimination promptly and effectively
- Encouraging family and community involvement
- Promoting respect
- Providing access to mental health services
- Offering mental health awareness education
- Fostering positive relationships between students and staff
- Establishing positive role models
- Encouraging group activity to build relationships
- Promoting and providing tools through which to develop resilience
Teachers and staff members should be educated on mental health so that they can work to maintain positive mental health for themselves as well as the students in the school.
Through our Headucation programme, Shawmind offers a large variety of mental health courses for schools, as well as a peer mentoring programme free of charge to schools so children and staff can be educated on mental health. You can get involved and support this programme for schools by donating today.
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