Children’s Mental Health Week

Anyone who has read my previous posts will know that children’s mental health is a matter close to my heart. This is a because of the difficulties I faced as a child, the teacher within me and being a parent.

I appreciate that parents, teachers, and the government may be worried about children’s education right now but what about their mental health?

I have done some research into the situation regarding support available for children and waiting times. Unfortunately, it seems to be a postcode lottery. I couldn’t find anything online covering how Children’s Mental Health is being tackled since Covid-19. I do know that the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) have been lobbying government to ensure that every school has access to a counsellor and although this did recently get debated by parliament it wasn’t successful. Instead, good old Boris said that he was putting more money into the NHS which can tackle children’s mental health issues. I don’t know where to even begin with this….counselling for children and young people is not readily available on the NHS. Some schools may have a counsellor, but this is potluck. Of course, children and young people can be referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) either by a parent/carer, teacher, GP etc. However, again the services available and waiting times differ depending on where you live.

I know of cases where parents have been desperate for help and support with their child and all that has been offered is a meeting where upon nothing is actually achieved despite the child needing vital and urgent support.

The government has recently spoken about how important it is to get children back into school asap for their mental health, suggesting that teachers are very adept at spotting signs that a child or young person is struggling or that something is amiss. Whilst I don’t disagree with teacher’s ability to do this, teachers have so much to do and mental health issues aren’t always obvious. Plus, teachers don’t always have the time to talk to children – of course they would but they may not be able to at the time when a child or young person wants to.

If more and more children and young people are suffering with their mental health this is also going to prove a challenge and I do not feel it is fair for the government to put the burden onto teachers to spot and solve the current increase in children’s mental health.

It’s worrying that there has been a dramatic increase in children as young as 10 turning up at A&E having self-harmed. Once they have been treated the likelihood is, they will be sent home, they may be advised to contact their GP, or they may be referred but what happens in the meantime?? 

A report published by the Children’s Society in February 2020 (when the pandemic had only just begun and we hadn’t entered into our first lockdown) highlighted that if young people managed to find help through NHS Children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS) they then found the process to be slow (with some cases taking 2 years before the correct support was accessed), impersonal, frustrating and often confusing.

However, if you are worried about your child and feel they need help then I would strongly encourage you to try and seek support whether this is via the NHS or through a private therapist.

We know that COVID-19 has affected everyone, and that children and young people have been exposed to the impact of the pandemic. Previous incidents including 9/11 have shown that some children’s mental health has been impacted over a long period of time. However, let’s focus on the knowledge that MOST children do not.

For most children and young people they will look back on Covid-19 as the time windows were covered in rainbows, when communities came together and they found gifts outside people’s homes, when they got to know their neighbours when they went out every week to clap, when they saw friends and family more than they did before lockdown on Zoom, when Christmas created new family traditions, when they spent time with their family enjoying the little things….the list goes on.

I image it will shape their world view and no doubt create great resilience and determination, to live life to the full (when we can) but most of all the make the most of what we have, to appreciate the ones the love, to enjoy every moment life brings and to see the good in life.

Yes, they may spend their life hoarding toilet paper or become obsessed with hand gel but hey the silver lining is I bet children have never washed their hands, showered/bathed, changed their clothes so much in their life! No more nagging for them to get clean!!

Whilst I appreciate that we can’t control everything right now such as schools being closed, job losses and children and young people not being able to see their friends in person, we can limit (or at least try) their exposure to news and social media and give them chance to talk about their feelings. If they don’t want to talk to you, you could see if they want to talk to a friend or family member, there’s always helplines such as Childline or maybe they could start a journal. Spending some quality time with them on their own can also help – be it a walk, cook their favourite food, have a pillow fight, find a safe and healthy way to let them get rid of any frustrations etc.

Other tools such as deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation can be very useful and there’s lots of free apps available for children of all ages.

As parents it’s all too easy to worry so much about our children that we put ourselves at the bottom of the list and right now it’s not like we can take ourselves off to a spa or for a night out, but it is more important than ever to take time to look after yourself in order to be able to look after our children as best we can. Even if we just take 5 minutes to do some deep breathing or mindfulness – pay attention to the birds singing, how the water feels on your hands when washing up, listening to your favourite song (I’ve been known to put my headphones in and take 5 minutes whilst my girls are happily playing) …the list goes on.

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.

I believe it’s a good thing for children and young people to see their parents or carers looking after themselves and explaining why it’s important. It’s not a sign of weakness if we admit we are finding something hard or if we need a bit of help. It shows that we don’t have to be superhuman to be the great person that you are. After all, in the eyes of our children we are their superheroes!

The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) are continuing to put pressure on the government to provide every school with access to a counsellor, I won’t hold my breath, but I hope that they will listen.

Another ‘silver lining’ you could say is that Covid-19 has hopefully removed some of the stigma around mental health, after all we have all lived through this bizarre time, so we immediately have something in common. We’ve all known someone who has been ill or sadly died, we’ve all missed friends and family and not being able to do everyday things.

Whilst I appreciate that right now some children may be feeling fed up or anxious about the future and the unknowns of when they will go back to school or be able to do things again, maybe it would be a fun idea to suggest creating a vision board or plan of what they would like to do when lockdown ends…like a bucket list I suppose.

Spiffy – The Happiness Shop (livespiffy.co.uk) offer some great products for children and adults such as journals, colouring books and affirmations.

I give my girls lots of hug and no matter what kind of a day we’ve had I also tell them I love them. I have also told them how proud I am of them. They have adapted so well, of course I worry that they are missing out on certain aspects of their childhood (such as school) but so are millions of other children instead we are making the most of this unique time and creating lifelong memories. Don’t forget we are human and all we can do is our best.

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