Children’s Mental Health Week: Every Voice Matters
Blog Author: Chloe Hall
Every Voice Matters
In its tenth year, children’s mental health awareness week runs from 5th-11th February. The theme for 2024 is ‘my voice matters’, a seemingly simple enough soundbite which serves to highlight the maze-like complexity that many young people face when contemplating feelings about their mental wellbeing.
The publicity is garnering plenty of coverage nationally. Interest is picking up in the press, on social media, and many hundreds of schools are busy preparing assemblies, lessons and presentations to explore this crucial topic. Moreover, Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham has tabled an early day motion about young people’s mental health. Her motion notes that twenty percent of 7-16 year olds suffer from a probable mental health disorder. Given that concerning statistic, it remains vital to appreciate the negative effect which poor mental health can have on children’s school attendance, academic performance, and long term goals.
What has led to this public interest?
There is a wall of statistics published by bona fide organisations which makes for some arresting reading. For example, The Children’s Society reports that in any class of thirty pupils aged 5-16, six are likely to be experiencing a mental health issue. Yet it is simply unknown just how many children and young people are facing conditions like anxiety and depression on a daily basis. The numbers appear to be growing rapidly year on year, although this is partly because more children feel better able to reveal and discuss their thoughts and feelings.
The Local Government Association looks at the issue from a gender context. In 2021-2022 nearly twice as many boys than girls aged 7-10 were likely to have a mental health disorder. The LGA cites a greater parity for children aged 11-16, but for 17-23 year olds more young women are likely to experience mental health issues. Regrettably, young men still tend to be reticent about discussing their mental health.
The LGA also considers the strain on services and funding, given that 734,000 young people were referred to mental health services in 2021-2022. Waiting times have inevitably risen, and only twenty percent of those referred for formal treatment were able to start within a month. Sadly, the mental health conditions of three quarters of young people waiting for treatment actually worsened while they were waiting, and some ended up unable to access treatment. Meanwhile there have been real terms funding cuts to associated budgets and services.
Intriguingly, the LGA also reports that fifty-five percent of 16-25 year olds have at some point consulted their GPs about their mental health. Yet perhaps one of the most worrying revelations concerns the other forty-five percent. The most frequent reason stated by a young person for not seeing a GP about their mental health was a feeling that their condition was not serious enough. Does that mean that many young people feel that they should only bother their GP once their mental health has seriously deteriorated? The LGA argues that young people should not have to wait for treatment and access to services, especially as half of mental health problems begin by the age of fourteen.
A further issue concerns the increases in prescribed antidepressants for young people. Research demonstrates that only one in four young people prescribed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – including Fluoxetine, Sertraline and Citalopram – had first been able to see a psychiatrist. While every case is different, over fifty percent of these young people were diagnosed with depression. Why do GPs frequently resort to issuing courses of medication? A significant factor is the increasing demands placed on NHS psychiatry services.
Youngminds has published research which notes that bullying is one of the most widespread reported emotional and mental health concerns. Forty four percent of young people revealed that they were often or always worried about bullying. Over two thirds of them believe that their friends make a positive impact to their mental wellbeing. And nearly eighty percent think that our society is generally more appreciative of mental health issues than it used to be.
Yet Youngminds’ research starkly confirms that only about thirty percent of young people with a mental health condition receive NHS care. And that means a huge number of young people do not, because seventy-one percent of 16-18 year olds had looked for mental health support during the preceding two years.
Given this statistical context, what message lies at the heart of this year’s children’s mental health week, and how might it help children and young people with their mental wellbeing?
In a nutshell, it has never been more important to make time to listen to children’s concerns seriously and respectfully. After all, timely support and sympathy can make a great difference to a young person who is struggling with their thoughts and how to express them.
And who better to ask their opinions than young people themselves? Pupils from two schools, Stewards Academy and Ark Globe Academy, have suggested the following ten pieces of reassuring advice for any young person who is concerned about their mental wellbeing:
First, it is important to turn to someone you trust. Keeping things to yourself is likely to make you feel worse;
Second, consider who you would be comfortable turning to, perhaps a friend, relative, or teacher. Or you could contact SHOUT by texting 85258;
Third, remember that you are not alone;
Fourth, avoid becoming isolated;
Fifth, do not be embarrassed about your thoughts and feelings. They matter;
Sixth, keep in mind aspects of your life which you enjoy;
Seventh, be good to yourself, be your own best friend;
Eighth, it may help to write down your thoughts and feelings;
Ninth, if you feel that you might self-harm, tell someone; and distract yourself. You could make a plan in case you feel like this later;
Tenth, remember to make time for things that you enjoy doing.
Such affirming advice could go a long way towards reassuring the many young people who deal with mental health issues on a daily basis. What’s more, it is equally applicable to everyone, irrespective of age. This February it is crucial for children and young people to remember that their voice really does matter, and we all have a role to play in endorsing that idea.
Circle is a hub space and café that offers support for young people in Ealing who are at, or near crisis point with their mental health.
Most of the young people attending A&E for mental health support are dealing with anxiety, depression, self-harming behaviour and suicidality risks. The earlier a young person gets support for their mental health, the more effective that support will be.
That’s why Circle exists: to provide mental health support early, and prevent things getting worse
Posted on: 31st January 2024