5th February is the start of Children’s Mental Health Week, which highlights the importance of the wellbeing of young people. This year’s theme is My Voice Matters, focusing on empowering children and young people by giving them the tools they need to express themselves and make sure their voices can be heard.
If we don’t take the time to learn how to recognise what we feel from a young age, we run the risk of having to tackle adulthood without a good understanding of how emotions impact how we feel about ourselves and the way in which we interact with those around us. Without this foundation of wellbeing, we will not be equipped to deal with the challenges that life may throw at us.
Young people are exposed to numerous potential challenges to their mental health, many of which are akin to those that adults face. Experiencing trauma can trigger or exacerbate mental health problems, as can going through a period of change such as moving house, changing schools or the birth of a new sibling. The transition from puberty to adulthood can cause emotional turmoil, which in itself can be difficult to deal with, but may also lead some young people to experiment with alcohol or other substances which can be detrimental to mental health. it’s important not to dismiss their experiences just because they are children, but to appreciate that they can be affected in similar ways to adults.
Some of the mental health issues that young people may face include depression, anxiety, self-harm, ADHD and eating disorders. If you’re worried about your mental health or that of your child, you can speak to your GP or health visitor, a school teacher, school/college counsellor, or specialist organisations like Young Minds. They can all refer to professional groups like CAMHS. They may provide talking therapies or medication if deemed necessary.
If you are a young person, or you live with or care for children or young people, there are some things that you can do yourself to help manage and improve wellbeing:
Practice mindfulness – learning to be more aware of their surroundings and senses can help children be present in the moment and understand themselves better;
Get active – being outside and being active or playing sport not only gives children the opportunity to have fun, but can reduce anxiety, improve mood and concentration, and help them learn about teamwork and the power of community;
Be positive - teach them positive mantras to make themselves feel better about themselves and give them a sense of control over their feelings;
Embrace creativity – paint, draw or make things to help express feelings, or read stories together that explore themes on emotions and wellbeing;
Talk – be open and honest about emotions, and talk through why they might be feeling certain things at certain times and effective ways they could manage their feelings.
It’s also important to maintain a healthy balanced diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly.
If we give children the opportunity to learn about themselves, to understand the emotions they are feeling and how to put them into context, we can provide them with a robust foundation on which to build resilience, self-esteem and confidence, and make their way in the world empowered enough to make their voice stand out.