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CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH: WHAT CAN WE DO BEYOND THE WEEK?

How can we continue the awareness of children's mental health beyond the confines of just one week?

We’ve recently experienced the incredible impact of Children’s Mental Health Week and I thought it would be a great opportunity to provide some real food for thought on what we can do to continue the awareness beyond the confines of just one week. The wellbeing, self-belief, and confidence of our children should be as important as their physical health, so how do we keep this at the forefront of our minds throughout the year and beyond?

If you don’t know much about this particular awareness week, let me introduce you. Children’s Mental Health Week was established four years ago by Place2Be, the UK’s leading mental health charity, offering emotional and therapeutic services in primary and secondary schools in order to build children’s resilience through talking, creative work and play. Children’s Mental Health Week this year brought hundreds of schools together to discuss the stigma of the issue that is affected by so many, with an array of workshops, assemblies and fundraising and awareness events, all addressing the importance of #BeingOurselves. Many children wrote messages to their friends to share what they thought was special about them, some had discussions on what their strengths are as well being visited by specialist trainers, where they learnt how to embrace their uniqueness and have a more positive view on their futures.

Despite the awareness week being one that is without a doubt, significant and thought provoking, it’s vital to remember that mental health shouldn’t just be remembered during the confines of one week…

We have the stats that show that mental health problems seem to be on the rise, with the Mental Health Foundation reporting that now 1 in 10 children are affected by mental health problems in the UK. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that more people are struggling than before: mental health has become a much more accessible topic to talk about, with the stigma around suffering diminishing in the past couple of decades. PSHE in schools now includes talks on different mental health issues and teachers are specially-trained to look out for signs that children are struggling. All of this can only be a good thing, helping to further eradicate the taboo around talking about these problems and seeking help.

But, is this enough? Alarmingly, it was also reported that 70% of children who had a mental health issue had not had ‘appropriate interventions’ at an early age, which could have ultimately prevented them from developing further issues later on in their lives. I absolutely believe that mental health should be discussed even more openly in schools where children have the freedom to talk to teachers and support staff.

However, I also believe that more should be done to stop us falling back on diagnoses. Often it seems that children who are struggling with their emotions and coping strategies are side-lined straight-away, boxed off into those who can’t be helped because they have a mental health problem. Instead, I think there is more to be done in the initial stages: discussions around differences, embracing what makes us unique, and work around understanding our emotions and how to articulate them to others effectively should be the first step.

We should be able to give children the appropriate mentoring they need; whether that’s offering extra help with homework or running buddy programs introducing them to other children who may have similar challenges and experiences if they’re struggling to articulate their feelings to adults.

The Little Bird’s Dream Workshops I deliver, create an empowering environment, enabling the children to explore their dreams and aspirations, and Little Chick has Lunch on the Moon is the perfect support material for this. In my book, Little Chick decides he wants to have lunch on the moon so he sets about building a rocket with Mommy & Daddy Chick, and up they fly! This story ignites the children’s imaginations and shows that with a little guidance and support, anything is possible amongst every child.

So, what else can we do? How can we as adults, contribute to raising awareness and supporting our children?

It’s important to communicate with your child and ask them what kinds of things go through their mind. A simple ‘’how was your day at school?” has become a default question but without the intention of truly listening to the answer, whether than be verbal or non-verbal, it becomes a robotic process with little meaning. This leads to missed opportunity in creating an open dialog where our children can unburden themselves of what may be a concern. And lets not forget there will be many positive experiences to be shared that encourage essential feelings of happiness and achievement.

For myself, growing up with an adopted family brought all sorts of questions and thoughts to my head. I was very lucky to have such supportive parents that listened and understood my problems to help me lead a happy life and have a healthy mind-set throughout my later childhood days. Nurturing this in both schools and homes is instrumental to preventing and remedying early mental health signs.

Without a proper education and understanding on the topic of mental health, we will never be able to move forward in eliminating the stigma around it. Without the resources initially being provided, the statistics that I previously mentioned will only continue to be on the rise as we grow older. Children cannot achieve their full potential when they are burdened with unhappiness, so offering a support network is crucial to them at this young age.

So, let’s get this conversation going! Let’s start to talk about these issues more. Do not
ignore your mental health, or anyone else’s! Be more aware of the people surrounding you and how
they may be struggling as well. It’s surprising how many people I’ve met throughout my career and discovered they
are either directly or indirectly affected by mental health. Let’s support our future generation and do
everything in our power to give them a better quality of life, and remember,
simply listening without judgement is the greatest gift you can offer.

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