COINCIDING with Children’s Mental Health Week, which began on Monday and runs until Sunday, February 11, author and counsellor Lynn Crilly said many youngsters were still falling victim to a post-pandemic surge in conditions including depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
And Ms Crilly, who has helped treat hundreds of young people in her career, said many were unable to access any support.
“Children’s Mental Health Week is a great moment for us to raise awareness about how important it is for children to speak out about any problems they are suffering from.
“But for children who make that step, accessing support is also often impossible due to long waiting lists.
“The strain this places on young people and their families is often intolerable.
“We urgently need to see services across all parts of the UK receive extra investment and funding to meet the alarming rise in the numbers of young people requiring help.”
Ms Crilly’s daughter Samantha developed an eating disorder 20 years ago before developing mental ill health and obsessive compulsive disorder. A lack of support prompted Lynn to enter counselling and she has now released a series of books offering practical advice to young people ant their families.
She said parents needed to have conversations with their children and offered tips on how best to go about it.
She suggests building trust by creating an environment where they feel trusted, safe and respected as a method to help them open up, rather than throwing specific questions about mental illness or, for example, self-harming which could be counter-productive.
Conversations should be little and often to make discussions about mental health as easy as those about physical health.
Parents should think about where to have the conversation especially if the subject appears tricky, for example on a car journey. This enables young people to talk without the full glare of their parents’ attention. It could also make the adults feel more at ease too, rather than somewhere else, such as in their bedroom or at the kitchen table.
Soaps, TV or magazine articles could be used as the perfect starting point for a conversation. If a character is going through a certain issue on TV or young people’s stress is mentioned on the news, the parent could be prompted to ask questions.
Parents should always ‘avoid accusation; and, instead, ask open questions about general topics rather than honing in on specific issues. For example: ‘You have been a bit quiet lately – is anything troubling you?’ or ‘You don’t seem yourself. Is anything wrong?’
Parents should be non-judgemental, even if they are shocked or do not agree with what they are being told. Stay calm as panicking will unsettle the young person further. Parents could share a tough time in their life to show how feelings are understandable and natural.
And parents should not forget themselves in the situation – seek help from friends, family, loved ones, colleagues or even a GP if necessary.
Signs to look out for
Ms Crilly suggests a number of signs to look out for, including their child excessive worrying or a sadness or low mood that does not go away,
Children being irritable and losing interest in things they used to enjoy or them going out less with friends could also point to a mental health struggle.
Another signal could be a young person being exhausted a lot of the time, having trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual, along with a dip in confidence.
And children sometimes talk about feeling guilty, worthless or hopeless or seem lacking in emotion or maybe talking about wanting to hurt themselves.
Problems getting motivated for school, playing up or getting themselves into trouble when they have not previously could also all be signs of mental ill health.