by Jessica Parker,
Trainer and Psychologist
The current situation
Mental health is a crucial aspect of well-being and development for children and young people. However, many of them face various challenges that affect their mental health, such as bullying, abuse, trauma, poverty, social isolation, and academic pressure. According to the NHS, one in five children and young people in England between the ages of eight and 25 had a probable mental disorder in 2023. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, as many young people have experienced increased stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness due to lockdowns, school closures, and social distancing.
What to look out for
In today’s fast-paced and often high-pressure environment, it’s increasingly important to recognise the signs that a young person might be struggling with their mental health. Changes in behaviour are key indicators; this might include withdrawal from social activities, a noticeable decline in academic performance, or altered sleeping and eating habits. Young people dealing with mental health challenges might also exhibit mood swings, ranging from bouts of unexplained sadness to irritability, or they may express feelings of hopelessness.
Physical symptoms, such as unexplained aches and pains, can also be signs of underlying mental distress. Furthermore, a sudden disinterest in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies should not be overlooked. It’s crucial to approach these signs with sensitivity and support, acknowledging that mental health is as important as physical health. Early intervention and open, non-judgmental conversations can make a significant difference in helping young people navigate these challenges.
The government’s response
The UK government has recognised the urgency of addressing the mental health crisis among children and young people and has taken several steps to improve the situation. Some of the recent policy changes include:
- Allocating £79 million to expand and accelerate the implementation of the NHS Long Term Plan for children and young people’s mental health, which aims to provide access to mental health support in schools and colleges, community-based services, and specialist care.
- Launching the Mental Health in Education Action Group, chaired by the Minister for Children and Families, to oversee the delivery of mental health support in schools and colleges and to identify and address any gaps or challenges.
- Supporting the development and dissemination of evidence-based interventions and guidance for children and young people’s mental health, such as the MindEd online learning platform.
- Appointing Senior Mental Health Leads in schools and colleges, who are responsible for developing and implementing a whole-school or college approach to mental health and well-being, and providing them with funding and training.
- Establishing mental health support teams, which are linked to groups of schools and colleges and offer early intervention and ongoing help for children and young people with mild to moderate mental health needs, as well as advice and consultation for staff and parents.
These policy changes are welcome and necessary steps to improve the mental health and well-being of children and young people in the UK. However, there is still more work to be done to ensure that every young person has access to timely, appropriate, and high-quality mental health support and care. For example, through enhancing the prevention and early intervention of mental health difficulties, by promoting mental health awareness, resilience, and coping skills among children and young people and their families and carers.
How can you help?
Supporting the mental health of young people in our lives begins with creating an environment of open communication and trust. It’s crucial to encourage them to share their feelings and experiences, reassuring them that their emotions are valid and they are not alone in their struggles. Parents and caregivers can educate themselves on mental health to better understand and respond to their needs.. It’s also important to recognise the signs of mental health challenges and seek professional help when necessary. Equipping young people with coping skills and resilience strategies can empower them to manage challenges effectively. Above all, showing unconditional support, and being a consistent source of empathy and understanding, can make a significant difference in their mental well-being.