THE Government must urgently address a growing crisis in children’s mental health services, an expert has warned.
Author and counsellor Lynn Crilly said many youngsters are still falling victims 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 are unable to access any support.
Speaking as Children’s Mental Health Week kicks off, Lynn said: “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.”
Lynn became a counsellor after her own daughter, Samantha, developed an eating disorder 20 years ago. Samantha later developed mental ill health, and obsessive compulsive disorder. A lack of support prompted Lynn to enter counselling, and she’s now released a series of books offering practical advice to young people and their families.
Last year, with the help of Samantha, she also released a new toy – The Troublemuncher – which encourages children to be more open about how they feel.
Sharing her advice on how you can look to initiate a conversation with a young person about their mental health Lynn said:
- Trust: Confronting them head-on and throwing specific questions at them, such as ‘Do you have a mental illness?’ or ‘Have you self-harmed?’ may be counter-productive, causing them to clam-up, run away or shout back. Instead, create an environment where they feel trusted, safe and respected is much more likely to help them open up.
- Little and often is best: Aim to make mental health a subject that you talk about little and often. It is just as important as physical health and if we can begin to talk about it in the same way as we do other illnesses it will not be pushed to one side and get worse.
- Think about where to have the conversation: Some parents find that a car journey can be a good place to conduct tricky conversations, allowing youngsters to talk without the full glare of their parents’ attention on them. Adults too may feel more at ease than they might do facing their teenager over the kitchen table or in the naturally defensive environment of the teen’s bedroom.
- Use soaps and TV: Sometimes something you read in a magazine or see on TV will provide the perfect starting point for a conversation. It might be a character on a soap opera highlighting an issue or a report on the news about the stress young people are under. This is when the media can be used to positive effect as the starting point for a chat about mental health.
- Avoid accusation: Wherever and whenever you decide to talk, start the conversation without accusation or assumption and try to ask open questions rather than homing in on specific issues. This might mean opening up the conversation by saying something like “You have been very quiet lately…is something troubling you?” or “You do not seem yourself recently, is there anything wrong?” Their answer may not come during that conversation or even soon after, but by opening up the discussion you are showing to them that you are there to help, whenever they feel ready to talk.
- Don’t Judge: It is important not to judge, even if you do not necessarily agree with what you are being told. Even though your mind may be racing and your heart hammering, it is important to stay calm. When they are looking to you for guidance, showing panic will only unsettle a child/teen further. Perhaps you can share a situation in your own life where you felt worried or stressed to show them that their feelings are understandable and natural.
- Be Kind To Yourself too: Finally, do not forget yourself in all this. The role that you play, as a parent or carer, can be one of a child’s most important defences against mental ill health. Make time for yourself and get support from friends, family, loved ones or colleagues, and your GP if necessary. Looking after yourself and acknowledging how you feel is vital
SIGNS TO LOOK FOR
When looking for signs of an anxiety disorder (or another mental illness) some valuable things to consider might include:
- Do they excessively worry?
- Have you noticed a sadness or low mood that does not seem to go away?
- Are they irritable and have lost interest in things they used to enjoy and go out less with their friends?
- Do they seem to be exhausted a lot of the time?
- Do they have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual?
- Has their confidence taken a dip?
- Do they talk about feeling guilty, worthless or hopeless, or seem lacking in emotion?
- Do they talk about hurting themselves or show any signs of self-harm?
- Are they having problems at school or playing up, getting themselves into trouble?