Lockdown part 3….Week 12

This week has seen a lot of anticipation for tomorrow which marks when we can meet people outside including in people’s gardens and the stay-at-home rule is ending (although the government are still urging people to stay local which is confusing) and outdoor sport facilities are reopening. I’ve noticed that a lot of tourist attractions with gardens and outdoor spaces are also reopening from tomorrow. I must admit that it will be lovely to be able to drive further than 5 miles and to go to the beach or to outdoor attractions.

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown, and it was funny how the weather really reminded me of how the first lockdown felt. It has been the first time this year when I have been able to leave the door open to the garden and we have spent a lot of time in the garden where upon my girls have been playing with the sand, singing, dancing, chalking, gardening etc. It makes such a change…seeing the blue sky, the sun shining, spring flowers starting to bloom and hearing the birds tweeting is definitely good for the soul!

It was the last session of my counselling course before we broke up for Easter and I found the session very interesting and have reflected a lot on the topics covered. We have been learning about and discussing mental health. So much was brought up by everybody and it really highlighted how many people are struggling with their mental wellbeing. Someone talked about their experience of CAMHS and how the children using their services are just being filtered through in a very robotic way which is making the statistics look good in terms of how many children are ‘accessing mental health support’ but in fact the majority of these children are not finding the support offered of any use. They come away saying that they have been given a worksheet to do but they don’t really understand it and the adults working with them within their school see how disheartened they are.

It made me wonder if some children are struggling or have certain barriers when it comes to talking about their mental health because they are seeing the ‘support’ available and unfortunately are not seeing any benefits for those who are being referred to CAMHS. Therefore, come children may already have the attitude of ‘what’s the point?’ or feel that they are not really being heard. I find this frustrating and makes me want to do something drastic to shake up the system within the UK. However, as usual one of the main hurdles is money and budgets – if me or anyone else was to offer a service to schools they are likely to say that they don’t have the budget available or that they can refer children to CAMHS therefore they wouldn’t be interested.

I feel strongly that mental wellbeing needs to become compulsory within all schools and having a ‘mental health week’ simply is not good enough. I appreciate how much pressure schools are being put under, however, ½ of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14, 48.5% of 5–19-year-olds with a mental health disorder have more contact with teachers than any other professional service and 1 in 8 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder (these figures don’t take into account the impact of Covid-19). Children’s mental health problems can affect their attainment and behaviour which I picture as a car needing fuel to function – we harp on about needing food in order to function but actually there is so much more we need than just food. We all know that we need to sleep, exercise, keep hydrated etc but how much emphasis is put on the need for self-care or mental wellbeing, particularly with children and young people?

I believe that if children are given tools to support their mental wellbeing from a young age that this will have a massive positive impact on their life, now and in the future and that these tools could be used throughout their life. I believe by teaching children about mental wellbeing properly, (meaning not just a one-off session) that they will be in a better position to tackle whatever life throws at them. I feel that this could prevent mental health problems or at least the severity of how children are impacted by possible mental health problems rather than trying to treat or ‘cure’ them once they are diagnosed. The other problem with treating mental health problems is that most often particularly through the NHS and CAMHS, the waiting lists are long, and support can be very limited, therefore in some cases people may be worse before they access support or may not get the support they need.

Another reason I feel passionate about children being taught about mental wellbeing is that most people (no matter what age) that have committed suicide have not shown any signs that they were suicidal and quite often these people aren’t diagnosed with mental health problems. Therefore, if GP’s or schools are only trying to tackle the mental health of those who are ‘flagged up’ then children will devastating continue to slip through the net. Those who appear to be fine or do not have a diagnosis will continue to be offered very little or no support for their mental health which is feel is so wrong. As adults, each, and every one of us has been impacted by Covid-19 and a lot of people’s mental health has suffered, therefore who’s to say that children also haven’t been impacted?

I loved reading an article in The Guardian about a primary school that put catch-up on hold and instead spent a week focusing on children’s wellbeing. The headteacher was fully aware of the importance of this and felt that unless children are in the right place to learn mentally, that things just do not go in and I couldn’t agree more.

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.