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This week marks Children’s Mental Health Week across the UK.
After nearly two full years of a pandemic, the newest research indicates it has taken a heavy toll on children’s mental health. Between the social impacts, education and home life adjustments, and the stress and uncertainties of a pandemic, the fog is beginning to clear. We may now begin to see the real effects this has had on children and young people’s mental health.
For Children’s Mental Health Week 2022, we’ve provided the latest statistics, signposting to further help and support and some top tips on how to talk to children and young people about mental health.
A BBC analysis shows there has been a 77% rise in the number of children needing specialist treatment for severe mental health crisis.
Over 409,300 under-18-year-olds were referred to NHS England for issues such as suicidal thoughts and self-harm between April and October 2021.
An NHS study found that the rates of probable mental disorders in 6-to 16-year-olds increased to one in six in 2021, compared to one in nine in 2017.
The NHS study also found thatnearly 17% of young people aged 11 to 16 said the number of likes, comments, and shares they receive on social media had an impact on their mood. 50.7% spend more time on social media than they are meant to.
15.5% of 11-to-16-year-olds feel their lives have been made much worse due to coronavirus restrictions.
The number of children and young people in touch with children and adolescent psychiatric teams now is 349,449 – the highest number ever on record.
42% of primary schools and 46% of secondary schoolssaid that pupils’ emotional and mental health is the biggest challenge to helping them catch up with learning.
The above survey also found teachers are concerned with loss of social development during the pandemic, increased stress at home, pupils being more anxious, and some experiencing severe mental health issues.
Talking to Children and Young People about Mental Health
Here are 3 things to consider when having a conversation with a child (or young person) regarding their mental health and wellbeing:
1. Active Listening
Active listening is more than just ‘hearing’. It is listening with full concentration and demonstrating that you are listening.
Maintaining eye-contact, nodding your head, smiling, and saying ‘yes’ or ‘mmm’ will show you are listening without judgement. Be mindful not to interrupt or hurry them. If they struggle to talk, it might help if you ask them to write it down.
2. Open Questions
Asking open questions allows for more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and encourages a flow of conversation.
You may suspect there may be more depth to an issue than your child is letting on. Open questions will help you explore any potential risk. Examples are:
How are you? How are you getting on with schoolwork?
You don’t seem yourself lately. What’s on your mind?
I notice you’re not taking part in your usual hobbies at the moment. I’m wondering if there’s a reason for this?
Reassurance is given through active listening and asking open questions.
You can give further reassurance by highlighting ways you can help and how you and others can support them.
Encourage them to think about who they feel comfortable talking to, like a Trusted Adult.
Find time to talk when you won’t have to rush.
Avoid asking ‘why’ as this often makes someone feel defensive. You can ask broad questions and gradually become more specific with details.
Provide the child or young person with reassurance by explaining how you can help.
Don’t ask leading questions that prompt or encourage an answer you expect or want.
Remember that a young person may not be ready to talk, so explaining that there will be other opportunities to connect may help them feel at ease.
Use affirmative statements to end the conversation.
Our Emotions Journal can help the child in your care understand their emotions and learn how to express their feelings.
During difficult conversations with children, you might be faced with lots of ‘I don’t know’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’ answers. This can feel frustrating, but keep in mind it may be difficult for a child to be open with you. Some patience, reassurance, and honesty might help.
I was hoping we could have a chat to make sure everything’s going OK with you.
Can you help me understand how things are for you at school?
How long have you felt like this?
What you’re going through is difficult, but with the right support, things can change for you. I’m here to support you however I can.