How concerned are you as a young person about your mental health?
How concerned are you as a parent about your children’s mental health?

Alarming statistics- This is where things are at so let’s begin with some stats. Evidence shows that mental health issues can begin as early as 5/6 year olds. Record levels of young people are struggling at an increasingly fast pace and unable to cope with the speed and demands in which the modern world is changing. Factors which greatly influence young people today are: Academic pressure, social media, latest technology, family/ cultural pressures, social circles, bullying, poverty, job prospects, lack of resources and availability of professional mental health support (the list is exhaustive)– all have been named as contributing to this epidemic of poor mental health in our young people. On average research shows that:

  • 3 in 4 mental illnesses start in childhood.
  • In 2004, 1 in 10 children, 5-16 years, had a diagnosable mental health problem.
  • 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate intervention at a timely manner.
  • 50% health problems are established by the 14 and 75% by the age of 24.
  • 50% of health problems in adulthood takes roots from before the age of 15.
  • 7 are likely to have been bullied in some form of another.
  • The latest figures from the ONS (Office of National Statistics) revealed that the number of young suicided each year is greater that it has been for the past 10 years. In 2015 alone 1,660 y0ung people under 35 took their own lives; 103 more than in 2014 and 58 more than the previous highest record 1,631 in 2011. For those aged 5-19 suicide is the second most common cause of death- a record number of children having suicidal thoughts just in 2016/17.
  • Funding for CAMHS equates to just 0.7% of the total NHS budget and just 7% of mental health expenditure.
  • CAMHS turn away approximate 25% of children and young people referred to them.
  • 1-2 would have experienced the death of a parent or a very close family member.
  • At least 6 may be self-harming in one way or another.

How shocking is that? My view and the views of many other professionals and parents which I have spoken to are very concerned about what our younger generation will be faced with if mental health is not taken seriously – more importantly if drastic changes in attitudes and support is not made. How do you want to see your younger people living and coping day to day? What can you do to make a difference?

It’s crystal clear that young people are not getting the support they need. There seems to be a lot of talk and drawing out documents, but what is truly being done? Action really needs to start happening and cannot be left to just charities and individuals. This has to be a united approach if we are to see a healthy future generation, who are able to cope with the increasing demands in a changing world. With that, it is crucial to know who the key influences in a young person’s life are: parents, family members, teachers, tutors, carers, youth workers etc… who are the ones that can often spot when a young person is struggling but may not know how best to help. So, the key is to get educated about how you can help instead of brushing it off thinking that it is no big deal! The negative attitudes of many still have the belief of: “how can they be stressed, depressed, have anxiety etc… they are just children and teenagers. They don’t really know the meaning of stress and difficulties”. These responses I have heard time and time again – so unhelp to the young person. What they do need is to hear: “Yes, I hear you, you do not have to do this alone, talk to me, I’m here to listen.”

The 21stcentury is becoming a complex time for young people to be growing up, with increased pressure and constant shift in expectations and demands, changing at a drastic pace where they feel that they are almost unable to keep up. Technology is advancing and emerging at a tremendous pace with new and exciting things happening but at the same time it is extremely daunting and concerning. When I was growing up there was no internet, smartphone or social media. The most I had was Donkey Kong (watch game), played Tetris on an ancient block computer, wrote letters to communicate, board games for social interaction… Whilst the internet, smartphones, social media has made life much easier, it has also added huge pressures on our teens. What needs to be taught and learnt is how to effectively deal with these increased pressures, along with pressures such as: gangs, drugs, bullying, alcohol, peer pressure, self-image, eating disorders… As adults, we need to slow down, take time and listen to the young voices. What is it that they are truly trying to tell us because in some way or another the behaviour that they might be portraying is more likely to be a sign saying, “I need help”. Working as a teacher for 11 years has given me a great deal of insight to the struggles that young children and adolescent encounter and that the good intentions are there but these young people are not always fully supported and heard. Mental health and resilience around this must be implemented and taught from a very young age giving them the understanding, tools and strategies to cope with difficult and uncertain situations/ events in their life. By doing so this will become innate as a habitual pattern. I found that the external demanding pressures as a teacher made it very difficult and stressful to address each individual need of a child – I only wished that I had known more about supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing during my career as a teacher, however it is never too late and here I am with many other trying to make a difference. In my opinion, more needs to be done about educating the young people about mental health and how to cope with all that is within the high demands of a changing world. Priority above all should be the mental and emotional well-being of our younger generation. Once addressed, the rest should fall into place with consistency.

Two are which I would like to address in more detail here are:

  • mental health rises due to Teenagers feeling more isolated in Britain
  • social media implications and new guidelines drawn up for usage time

Loneliness and isolationare normally seen as old age thing, a pensioner but times have drastically moved on. It is alarming to see that loneliness amongst young people is happening so much earlier within children and young people. You ask yourself, “what is it that they could feel so lonely and isolated about when they have so much going for them?” I beg to differ. Just because you a child may have everything or nothing it is wrong to assume that they are not lonely or isolated. It is all the modern society pressures which are impacting the young youth of today. Loneliness and isolation have a huge impact on mental health leading to anxiety or depression, even leading to suicidal thoughts/attempts. Within young people, there are clear correlations between loneliness and poor mental and physical health, and between loneliness and lower academic attainment. More frightening statistics below:

Research with pre-school children found that more than 1 in 10 say they are lonely and unhappy with their social relationships.

  • 1 in 5 children aged 7 to 12 say they are lonely sometimes or often.
  • 4 out of 5 adolescents report feelings of loneliness at some time, and almost a third describe these feelings as persistent and painful.

The question to ask here is, “Why are there so many young people feeling loneliness and isolation?”

It is important to know and recognise that loneliness can happen at any age. Statements such as this is heart breaking “So many people in this world, yet no one will listen or understand.” All it takes is to pause and listen to the language and hear what they are truly saying. There was a time in my younger years during secondary school and towards the beginning of my early work career that I felt great isolation and loneliness which affected me in many ways. I lost self-confidence in my abilities, skills and self-image; became insecure of everything I did; withdrew from social interaction with friends and family. I isolated myself purely because I was afraid of what people might think of me and say, leaving me feeling lonely and unhappy… Having close members of family and being able to talk to someone gave me the strength to move forward. It was someone listening to me, taking importance in what I had to say and love that pushed me in the right direction…

Certain children and young people could be particularly vulnerable to loneliness if they experience neglect, being in care, have a disability, whether physical or learning, have young parents or parents with mental health problems.

Food for thought? Modern communication and social media can be both the cause and cure of loneliness. Almost half of 11-16year olds find it easier to be themselves online than face-to-faceand 3 in 5 would be lonely if they couldn’t talk to friends via technology.Yet in a recent survey 4% of 11-25year olds said they had been bullied on line in the last month. Where is the balance here I ask? This is why we as adults have to be in-tuned to hearing the voices of young people, support them, and educate them about these issues and feelings, by making time to truly listen to them.

When a child is asked they would say things like they are “bored”, or that they have “nothing to do.” Whereas, teenagers/ adolescents may not speak at all, not trusting anyone to understand them. A young person with a disability can often lack friends, despite their families’ best efforts.

What is important to remember here is that the feeling of lonelinesscan be a painful but normal reaction to an uncomfortable situation. However, when it occurs often or lasts for a considerable time, it can become a prolonged state, which can have significant long-term impacts on a young person’s mental, emotional and physical health. I refer this prolonged state as a chronic state where it can begin in childhood through to adolescence into adulthood. This chronic state is when there is a need for a close and intimate relationship that is rooted in early parent-child attachment.

Social media implications – How is this affecting young people’s mental health? A new document outlining social media usage
Take a moment to think or jot down the negative implications of social media which can lead to mental health concerns/ problems.
The question I ask is “how is this actually going to work and how effective will it be?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will direct Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, are drawing up first of its kind new official guidelines which will outline the maximum amount of time young people should spend on social media. There is serious evidence that shows how unlimited social media links to mental health problems in young people, however, there is also an argument that other issues around mental health could arise not by not being active on social media… what are your thoughts on this?

Recent survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of Barnardo’s unveiled that social media causes less anxiety for young people than school. A consensus is yet to be reached about the effect on young people’s mental health, with some saying social media has no confirmed links to poor mental health. I would debate the fact that social media can become an addiction and therefore lead to mental health problems. Again, what are your thoughts?

There are social companies that have started to focus more on the effects of mental health in young people and how this can be reduced. For example: Apple has introduced a new Screen Time feature earlier this year, which allows users to monitor their iPhone usage and set limits. Facebook and Instagram have also introduced new tools which allow users to monitor how much time they have spent scrolling within each app. These features are all well and good although I believe that this will not work effectively if young people are not taught the importance of this on a consistent base. As Hancock states that he “hopes new guidelines will empower parents and teachers to enforce sensible limits and explain them to children.”

A study from the University of Texas revealed that we check our phones an average of 85 times a day, while Ofcom reported more children are going online than ever before and that starting from an earlier age. More than half of children aged just three to four go online, while 80% of those aged five to seven do, 94% of eight to 11-year-olds, and 99% of those aged 12–15 regularly go online. So, this shows you the impact it can have on a young person’s developing mind. A report by Youngminds revealed, that almost 45% of young people spent three hours a day or more on social media, with nearly 40% reporting social media has a negative impact on how they feel about themselves.

As a young person using social media is a way of feeling accepted, fitting in, appreciated and valued, keeping up with latest trends and media coverage, keeping in contact with social circles… all well and good but often this is done due to pressures of obligation, I have to or else…, If I don’t then…, which then can lead to mental health problems like anxiety, depression simply because you’re not within that bubble of technology that everyone else is in. From my experience and expertise, the way forward is for adults to be consistent and speak to young people regularly and follow through on actions. These tips below can be useful and I would also begin to implement these tips with younger children.

Taken from the UK Safer Internet Centre for 11 to 19 year olds:

Protect your online reputation – Use the services provided to manage your digital footprints and think before you post. Content posted online can last forever and could be shared publicly by anyone.

Know where to find help – Understand how to report to service providers and use blocking and deleting tools. If something happens that upsets you online, it’s never too late to tell someone.

Don’t give in to pressure – If you lose your inhibitions you’ve lost control; once you’ve pressed send you can’t take it back.

The Internet Watch Foundationhas these tips for parents. If as a parent you’re in doubt, then speak to teachers and other professionals within the health and medical profession.

These solutions are simple common-sense but how many of us actually do it?

  • Talk about online safety with your children, as soon as they have access to internet connected devices. And educators, not just once a year when its E-safety Day
  • Set up parental controls and filters
  • Make a family agreement about device usage
  • Learn to safely live stream
  • Teach your child/ teenagers when to say no
  • See abusive content? Report it!

There is so much going on for young people in this changing world that they live in, so let’s embrace it but at the same time educate ourselves and learn how to best move forward these young people, so that mental health can be reduced and removed. It’s important to remember that mental health is not for ever and it can be reversed. Let us breakthrough this stigma and rise to the challenge to ensure the young people feel safe, trusted and supported to deal with the high demands and expectations of a changing world.

Thank you for reading and I hope that you will be inspired to take-action in order to address Mental Health alongside all the amazing people, professionals, support services and charities that are trying to make a tremendous difference.

“Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others”

“Your illness does not define you, your strength and braveness by speaking up – taking action does”

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, more unashamed conversation” Glenn Close

has a document that sets out key principles, to take-action to embed a whole school approach in promoting emotional health and wellbeing in a whole school and college approach. You can read this in more detail on:https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/414908/Final_EHWB_draft_20_03_15.pdf

Further Guidance on – Children and Young People, published 30thAugust 2017: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/better-mental-health-jsna-toolkit/5-children-and-young-people

Office for National Statistics – Statistics on childhood and adolescent mental health
https://www.ons.gov.uk/aboutus/transparencyandgovernance/freedomofinformationfoi/statisticsonchildhoodandadolescentmentalhealth

Guardian- Health chiefs to set social media time limits for young people
https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/sep/29/health-chief-set-social-media-time-limits-young-people