Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.
Alarmingly, however, 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
The emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.
Things that can help keep children and young people mentally well include:
Other factors are also important, including:
Mostly things that happen to children don’t lead to mental health problems on their own, but traumatic events can trigger problems for children and young people who are already vulnerable.
Changes often act as triggers: moving home or school or the birth of a new brother or sister, for example. Some children who start school feel excited about making new friends and doing new activities, but there may also be some who feel anxious about entering a new environment.
Teenagers often experience emotional turmoil as their minds and bodies develop. An important part of growing up is working out and accepting who you are. Some young people find it hard to make this transition to adulthood and may experiment with alcohol, drugs or other substances that can affect mental health.
If your mental or emotional state quickly gets worse, or you’re worried about someone you know – help is available.
You’re not alone; talk to someone you trust. Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.
These are some of the mental health problems that can affect children and young people.
If they have a warm, open relationship with their parents, children will usually feel able to tell them if they are troubled. One of the most important ways parents can help is to listen to them and take their feelings seriously. They may want a hug, they may want you to help them change something or they may want practical help.
Children and young people’s negative feelings usually pass. However, it’s a good idea to get help if your child is distressed for a long time, if their negative feelings are stopping them from getting on with their lives, if their distress is disrupting family life or if they are repeatedly behaving in ways you would not expect at their age.
If your child is having problems at school, a teacher, school nurse, school counsellor or educational psychologist may be able to help. Otherwise, go to your GP or speak to a health visitor. These professionals are able to refer a child to further help. Different professionals often work together in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Most support for troubled children and young people is provided free by the NHS, your child’s school or your local council’s social services department.
Assessments and treatments for children and young people with mental health problems put a lot of emphasis on talking and on understanding the problem in order to work out the best way to tackle it. For young children, this may be done through play.
Most of the time, the action that professionals recommend is not complex. and it often involves the rest of the family. Your child may be referred to a specialist who is trained to help them explore their feelings and behaviour. This kind of treatment is called a talking therapy, psychological therapy or counselling.
Most research into medications for mental health problems has focused on adults, rather than children. Children and young people need to be assessed by a specialist before they are prescribed any drugs. There is a lot of evidence that talking therapies can be effective for children and young people, but drugs may be also help in some cases.
The professionals supporting your child will keep information about them and your family confidential. Young people can seek help on their own, either by ringing a helpline or by approaching a professional directly, but your consent is usually needed for them to get medical care if they are under 16.
Young people have a right to privacy if they do not want to talk to you about their conversations with professionals, but you should still respond sensitively if they seem to be upset.