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Last updated: 30.10.18

How can we support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing?

It’s no secret that children and young people’s mental health is a growing concern. The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has reported that more children and young people have mental health problems than they did 30 years ago. So how can we support them?


If you are a parent or carer then having a basic understanding of children and young people’s mental health will put you in a good place to start providing meaningful support. Here we hope to help you do just that.


Why is mental health and wellbeing important?

Good mental health and wellbeing is important at all stages of life. But it has been shown that having mental health problems when you are younger has an effect when you’re an adult. Therefore we need to start nourishing good mental health from a young age, ensuring that we all have the resilience to cope with whatever life has in store.


What affects children’s mental health and wellbeing?

Worryingly, statistics show that 1 in 10 children and young people are affected by mental health problems. The main problems include depression, anxiety and self-harm.


What causes this? It’s believed that dealing with a big change can be a significant factor or trigger. School and social media are also often talked about, but there are other factors as well:

  • Having a long-term physical illness
  • Having a parent who has or had mental health issues themselves, alcohol problems or been in trouble with the law
  • Being bullied or abused
  • Experiencing the death of someone close
  • Divorced or separated parents


This isn’t an exhaustive list, and you’ll see that lot of these can’t easily be avoided, but having an awareness that these put you in a much better place to help a child.


What signs and symptoms can you look out for?

Action for Children suggest a helpful anagram – MASK – which could help you detect any changes in your child that might indicate mental health difficulties.


M – Mood

Has there been a significant change in mood, such as irritability or aggression? Have they become withdrawn?


A – Actions

Are there any changes in eating or are they showing difficulty sleeping? Are there signs of bullying, or alcohol/drug use, or self-harming?


S – Social

Are they bored, lonely, withdrawn? Are they starting to get into trouble, missing school or losing interest in their friends and other things they liked to do?


K – Keep talking

Though they may be reluctant to talk about how they’re feeling, or even refuse to, it’s important they know there is someone there who cares, so continue listening and asking how they feel.


In regards to mental health disorders, each has its own signs and symptoms and Young Minds has a fantastic comprehensive list, which should give valuable insights.


How can you help your child develop good mental health?

There are known elements that can help a child or young person sustain good mental health. A number are related to their environment. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are they encouraged to spend time playing, both indoors and out?
  • Are they part of a supportive family that gets along most of the time?
  • Do they attend a school that looks after and prioritises wellbeing?
  • Do they take part in peer group activities?


It is also important that they develop a healthy sense of self. Again, consider these questions:

  • Do they feel loved, trusted, understood, valued and safe?
  • Are they interested in life and have opportunities to enjoy themselves?
  • Do they have the space and opportunities to learn and succeed?
  • Do they accept who they are and recognise what they are good at?
  • Do they have resilience and the ability to solve problems?

(Adapted from MHF)


What to do if you notice a change in your child’s behaviour

First of all, don’t panic! A change in behaviour isn’t necessarily a sign of poor mental health. Growing up is a turbulent time and they might just be trying to adapt and navigate their own way in the world. Here are some ways in which you can help them:


-          It’s good to talk

A vital method is to simply talk. Talk to them and let them know that they are loved and supported. It doesn’t have to be about mental health, you can ask how their day is, or how they are. They might not want to talk, but they will appreciate knowing that the support is there.


-          Young Minds’ #Take20

Sharing an activity with your child for 20 minutes can create a relaxed space for you to have open conversations. This is particularly useful if talking about feelings is difficult. There are lots of advice, tips and suggestions on Young Mind’s website.


-          Build emotional insight

You can try and help them understand how our feelings, thoughts and actions can affect each other. Action for Children have a feeling triangle exercise to help with this.


-          Self-help

They may not want to talk so an alternative is to offer them self-help information, which they can read privately, in their own time.


-          Professional help

If you want to seek help from professionals, there are people available such as GPs, teachers, educational psychologists, school nurses, or therapists and counsellors.


Mental health is a complex topic and one we are still, as a society, trying to fully understand. But when it comes to your children, don’t be hard on yourself and remember you aren’t alone; all parents face similar battles and worries and there is a wide range of advice and help available to you.


Here at Virtual College, we have a range of resources that could provide further insight into children and young people’s mental health. Contact us at hello@virtual-college.co.uk if you want to find out more.