What is mental health?
There is often a lot of confusion about what we mean when we talk about mental health. Many people immediately start thinking about mental health problems or mental illness – but this is only one part of the picture...
Everyone has ‘mental health’ and this can be thought of in terms of:
- How we feel about ourselves and the people around us
- Our ability to make and keep friends and relationships
- Our ability to learn from others and to develop psychologically and emotionally.
Being mentally healthy is also about having the strength to overcome the difficulties and challenges we can all face at times in our lives – to have confidence and self-esteem, to be able to take decisions and to believe in ourselves.
Young People and Mental Health
Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.
These are some of the mental health problems that can affect children and young people:
- Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades. Typical symptoms include low mood, changes in sleep patterns, tearfulness or feelings of vacancy. Teenagers are more likely to experience depression than young children.
- Anxiety can cause young people to become extremely worried resulting in feelings such as panic, nervousness, heart racing and restlessness. Psychologists believe that anxiety is maintained by a vicious circle of thoughts, behaviours and feelings.
- Eating disorders usually start in the teenage years and are more common in girls than boys. The number of young people who develop an eating disorder is small, but eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can have serious consequences for their physical health and development.
As a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences that feel out of control, sometimes young people hurt themselves. It can be the thing young people turn to when they feel they have no other option. There are lots of things you can do to make a difference to someone you know who self-harms. Your attitude and how you relate to them is one of the key things that can help them feel supported. Try to be non-judgemental and let the person know that you are there for them whilst relating to them as a whole person, not just their self-harm.
Talking with your child can be difficult sometimes but a parent can learn a lot from their child though interaction or by just listening carefully to what they are trying to say to you. Involving yourself in your child’s world with a non-critical ear will help a young person to accept their feelings. Without shame, the young person can start learning how to cope with these feelings in a more healthy way. Perhaps encouraging the young person to include tools like mindfulness or keep a journal to support and prevent them from becoming overwhelmed. You could also encourage them to try some of the online tools, books and worksheets for understanding emotions or to see a therapist who they build up trust with to have a positive experience of your feelings being accepted and validated. Making sure your young person spends time every week doing things that they enjoy, such as seeing friends, playing football or going for a walk, is also important. Try to make time to do this, no matter what else is going on.
Signposting for more information and support services
If you are worried about your child’s mental health, we advise that you express these concerns to your doctor to be referred for the right support. The doctor can refer your young person for an assessment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) to see what help you could get. CAMHS is the NHS services that assesses and treat young people with emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties. In the meantime, some of the below services may be able to help:
Phone call or web chat with a counsellor 24/7, Childline also have an app
Get help and advice about a wide range of issues through a phone call, talk to a counsellor online, send an email or post on the message boards.
Mental Health Charity who can provide information on a range of topics including types of mental health problems, where to get help, medication and alternative treatments advocacy.
Online counselling, advice articles, journal writing, discussion boards
MeeTwo is a free fully moderated app for teenagers, which provides peer support, expert help, inbuilt educational and creative resources as well as in app links to UK charities and helplines.
Tele: 116 123
Free to call, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Eating disorder help via one-to-one web chat, support groups, chat rooms and message boards, helplines
Parents helpline: 08088025544
Dedicated to supporting young people and their families impacted by self-harm, providing a safe space to talk, ask any questions and be honest about what's going on in your life.
Number 22: 01628 636661
Youth Talk: 01753 842444
Free and confidential counselling primarily to young people aged 12-25 and those who care for them in RBWM
Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544
Mental Health Charity who can provide information on a range of topics including feelings and symptoms, types of disorders, where to get help,
Tele: 0118 934 2604
Professional support service which responds to the needs of children and families affected by life threatening illness or bereavement
User-led organisation for people who self-harm, and their friends and families.
Tele: 0808 808 4994
Under 25s can talk to The Mix via online, social or helpline
British Association for Counselling
and Psychotherapy (BACP)
Tel: 01455 883 300
Lists accredited therapists.
Heard and Seen
Offer targeted interventions (group or 1:1) and volunteer mentoring for youths/children whose parent is in prison
A safe, supportive online community where you can listen, be heard and share your experiences with others.
The Trust House Reading
Tele: 0118 958 4033
Sexual abuse helpline, one-to-one counselling, play therapy (for 4-17 year olds), email support.
which gives tips, advice and where to get support for your child's mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Please click here for a directory of resources and services to support children and young people with eating disorders (opens as a PDF)