Children’s mental health is in sharp decline. The number of children likely to have a mental health problem has risen by 50% in the last three years from one in nine to one in six. That’s five children in every classroom.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic has taken its toll on young people. And an estimated quarter of a million children have struggled with the loss of their usual support mechanisms. Not being able to see friends and family caused the most distress.
But even before the pandemic, there has been a worrying downward trend in children’s happiness. The latest Good Childhood Report by the Children’s Society reported that an estimated 306,000 10-15 year olds in the UK are unhappy. That’s over 76% more than ten years ago. School life and worrying about appearance caused the most unhappiness.
The Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) follows the health and wellbeing of people born around the turn of the century. The latest sweep of the MCS found that one in four 17 year olds had self-harmed in the last year and 7% had attempted suicide. With numbers for young people attracted to the same or both genders much higher at 51% for self-harm and 19% for attempted suicide.
How can we support children’s mental health?
Half of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14 and three quarters by age 18. Early support is vital, but 75% of the young people who need help don’t get it. Waiting lists for NHS treatments are long and 34% of those referred are not accepted for treatment as their condition is not considered severe enough. But children should not have to wait until they are at crisis point to receive help.
Things you can do:
If you are a parent or carer worried about a child, talk to them, listen to them and let them know you can work through any issues together. If they don’t want to talk, try text or email.
Speak to your GP for advice.
Write to your MP and support the Young Minds Fund the Hubs campaign to increase funding for early mental health and wellbeing hubs for young people.
The image that often comes to mind is of someone cutting themselves. But self harm can be any action that causes injury or pain to yourself. Over-eating, over-exercising, participating in unsafe activities, drinking too much are all just harmful to yourself as causing immediate physical injuries.
Many people think those that self harm are just attention seeking. If they were serious, they would attempt suicide, right? But in reality they will often do their best to keep their behaviour a secret. It is a coping strategy, a way of dealing with extremely difficult emotions and feeling some control over unmanageable emotions.
MHFA plenary speaker and self harm awareness trainer Satveer Nijjar discusses and explains more in this video.
The co-author of the report Louis Appleby, from the University of Manchester, commented: “An increase in the prevalence of using self harm to cope with emotional stress could have serious long term implications. There is a risk that self harm will become normalised for young people, and individuals who start to self harm when young might adopt the behaviour as a long term coping strategy.”
Appleby warned, “Non-suicidal self harm may be associated with later suicide. As young people get older, reaching age groups that already have higher suicide rates, the self harm they have learned may become more serious and more likely to have a fatal outcome.”
Where to go for help
Self harm can be successfully treated when caught early and it’s important to get help as soon as possible.
Self Harm UK have launched a free online support group for 14-19 year olds called Alumina.
Young Minds are always an excellent resource for all mental health matters for younger people and they have some great pages around self harm. They also support parents of young people too.
The mental health charity Mind have useful contacts if self harm affects you or someone you know.If you’re in crisis contact The Samaritans on 116 123. In 2019, people discussed self-harm in calls with Samaritans once every two minutes.
In the Adult MHFA courses we learn about crisis first aid for self harm and positive coping strategies to help reduce stress.