There have been few studies around the world that focus on the subject of children’s and young people’s mental health.
In 2017, the Mental Health and Young People Survey (MHCYP) explored the mental health of children and young people in England.
Meanwhile, in July 2020, the follow-up to that provides useful insight to what the pandemic has meant for children.
Generally, about one in 10 young people suffer mental health problems, and it’s a fact that teenagers especially are at risk of depression, anxiety and self-harm.
One of the main ways the crisis is being tackled is to identify the causes of mental problems in the young.
While some will be similar to those experienced by adults, there are differences too.
Here are some reasons why a young person’s mental health may suffer:
- Having a long-term physical illness
- Having a parent who has had mental health issues, problems with alcohol addiction, or has been in trouble with the law
- Experiencing the death of someone close
- Having parents who separate or divorce
- Having been severely bullied, or physically or sexually abused
- Living in poverty, or being homeless
- Experiencing discrimination, perhaps because of their race, sexual orientation, or religion
- Acting as a carer for a relative and all the adult responsibilities that entails
- Having long-standing educational challenges
The range of mental health problems that can affect children and young people are many, but here are some of the more common ones:
This affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades with teenagers most prone to the condition
Cutting or burning is common amongst young people
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This causes young people to become seriously worried and anxious
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This could be the result of sexual or physical abuse, or caused by something that has been extremely frightening such as being involved in an act of violence or something like extreme bullying
- Eating disorders
Eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are common among teenagers but can also affect very young children, seriously affecting their physical development.
Without doubt, events of the past 12 months or so have placed young people’s mental health under more scrutiny, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists recently revealed that it is children and young people who are bearing the brunt of the mental health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One year on from the first lockdown, and after warnings from the mental health sector about the impact of the pandemic on the country’s mental health, NHS Digital data shows that while the crisis is affecting people of all ages, it is under 18s who are suffering most.
There has been a marked increase in children reporting a wide range of symptoms since the pandemic took hold.
Anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and anorexia are all on the rise, with many youngsters reporting they feel a lack of hope for the future.
There may be very tangible reasons for this.
A young person may have experienced bereavement, or have concerns about their school or university work, or worries about family members, but there may not be an obvious reason apart from unspecific fears.
A breakdown in routine, together with uncertainty, has meant that young people are dealing with multiple pressures they are simply not equipped to deal with.
Other factors which cause young people to suffer mental health problems include bullying, including online bullying, body dysmorphia, low self-esteem, and a lack of support within the family.
While the actual impact of the pandemic will not be known for a while, experts agree that preventative action needs to be taken now.
In a trends in suicide report the BMJ states: “Tackling known risk factors that are likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic is crucial.
“These include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, feelings of entrapment and burdensomeness, substance misuse, loneliness, domestic violence, child neglect or abuse, unemployment, and other financial insecurity.
“Appropriate services must be made available for people in crisis and those with new or existing mental health problems.
“Of greatest concern, is the effect of economic damage from the pandemic.
“One study reported that after the 2008 economic crisis, rates of suicide increased in two thirds of the 54 countries studied, particularly among men and in countries with higher job losses.”
Parents too can play their part by looking out for signs that their child is suffering a mental health crisis.
- Rapid mood swings
- Extreme energy or lack of it, sleeping all the time, or being unable to sleep
- Severe agitation, pacing
- Talking very rapidly or non-stop
- Confused thinking or irrational thoughts
- Thinking everyone is out to get them or seeming to lose touch with reality
- They experience hallucinations or delusions
- They make threats to others or themselves
- Isolating themselves from friends and family, not coming out of their room
- Not eating or eating all the time, rapid weight loss or weight gain
- Suicidal thoughts and statements such as “I want to die” or even possible vague statements such as “I don’t want to be here anymore”
Of course, mental illness is something that not only young people are reluctant to admit to for fear of being stigmatised.
That is why the Marandi Foundation is now dedicating its work to providing young people with mental health and wellbeing support services, and has been collaborating with The Royal Foundation to overcome stigma associated with mental ill health.
The Royal Foundation is the charity founded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to make a difference, and one of their main causes is mental health – specifically that of young people.
It’s about seeking more creative solutions to the problem by working in tandem with mental health charities to support young people.
The Royal Foundations’ series of initiatives is already having an impact. #For example, its Heads Together campaign has taken the issue of mental health into the football arena to highlight problems among males, especially young men, who are much more at risk of committing suicide.
In 2018, The Duchess of Cambridge launched Mentally Healthy Schools – a website designed for primary school teachers and staff, giving them free access to hundreds of the highest quality assured mental health resources including lesson plans, assembly plans, advice and information, making it easier for them to understand, talk about, and support good mental health in their school.
Over the past two years, a total of 250,000 visitors have used the website.
As a result, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families is now in control of this valuable resource, and it is developing it further to ensure the assets it has reflect curricula from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as England.
It is projects such as this which The Royal Foundation and the Marandi Foundation will be exploring in order to help schools break down barriers to improve the health and wellbeing of children in their care.