The Government’s recent announcement that they will be funding The National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy will be welcome news for many given that it is reported that 50% of children with mental health issues aren’t getting the help they need, when they need it.
It’s aimed at children aged 12 and younger, including their families as official government figures indicate that around 14% of children aged 4-11 have a mental illness and half of them aren’t getting professional help. Clearly such funding is badly needed but what is happening that such young children are experiencing poor mental health and distress?
While pondering that and reflecting on some of the conversations I have had with parents, teens and adolescents, it appears to be a complex and multi-faceted problem because there can be so many underlying problems to be explored and unravelled, so any warning signs may be missed, dismissed, or go undiagnosed.
I’m not clear what mental illness is being referred to in relation to the funding however my perception and observation is that young people in general are feeling generally stressed, anxious and overwhelmed, often for long periods which, if left untreated or unresolved could easily lead to a mental health problem.
How do we know if our child is experiencing a problem including, stress and anxiety or is overly nervous, outside what might be considered normal? Perhaps through a change in behaviour, yet there are so many dynamic behavioural shifts as we grow and develop through childhood, the thought that it could be stress or anxiety may be overlooked or diminished along the way. What is normal as part of modern life and what is cause for concern?
Perhaps considering some potential contributing factors could help in assessing the risk.
Certainly, in the last 18 months, Covid has fundamentally changed the way that most of us live and has created major changes in our routines with the potential for causing overwhelm. Uncertainty about income and future employment, keeping up with home schooling, isolation from friends and classmates and escalated stress and anxiety levels even in those who didn’t experience it already. If it has affected the parent/carer, the child has also felt it, in addition to whatever else they may be worried about.
Other possibilities include underlying physical problems such as a brain chemical imbalance, a history of poor mental health in the child’s immediate circle, the primary parent/carer not coping and being anxious and stressed, an unsafe emotional and/or physical environment, experiencing a traumatic experience at any time throughout childhood including pre-birth which impacts the parent/carer and/or child, lack of appropriate care (love, food, support), change, loss etc.
Could it also be related to comparison? As our awareness develops, it’s around the age of four that we start to compare ourselves to others and that may well test our confidence in ourselves and ability to cope with feeling that someone is ‘better’ than us. It can leave us feeling ‘less than’ and potentially lead to competition or withdrawal, either of which could have a detrimental impact on mental health if taken to extremes.
For older children, it could be the pressure (internal or external) they feel from being at school and sensing they need to work harder and achieve more and more just to keep up but without any strategy to cope.
It could be any or a combination and as I wrote above, it’s complex and multi-faceted.
There has been much written in relation to a child’s external environment having a major impact on their internal environment ie physical and mental health and overall development. What happens to and around us, particularly when very young, shapes our view of the world and ability to cope from that point on, so a negative or traumatic experience can be a significant contributing factor and therefor a risk indicator for poor mental health later in life.
Saying all of that and acknowledging the government’s strategy for children and their well-being, please if you have any concerns about your child’s mental health or your own, seek advice and support from a suitably qualified doctor or specialist.