Crisis for children’s mental health

October 26, 2021

College created by Nikol with photograph from Pixabay

Nikol Nikolova underlines importance of supporting young people’s wellbeing with multidimensional approach

Our idea of children’s wellbeing often focusses on their physical health, exercising regularly and eating well. However, society regularly fails to acknowledge the importance of mental health and to recognise where support is missing in important areas of young people’s lives.

Some consider it’s too early to talk about mental health, relationships or self-esteem during a person’s childhood or teen years but studies have shown time and time again that positive experiences, connection and clear communication during our early years provide the foundation for healthy development and success in life.

We need to support young people who have had traumatic or negative experiences, helping them to thrive.

It’s vital we pay attention to early warning signs. We need to care for our young people’s wellbeing with wraparound support; identifying what they need to make their lives better. Every young person is in a unique situation so a comprehensive, holistic, multidimensional response is needed.

The Good Childhood Report is an annual publication presenting the latest trends on children’s wellbeing. While we can all agree that the pandemic has had a massive impact on everyone’s health, both physical and emotional, this report reveals that children’s satisfaction with life, their social circle and school was already much lower in the period of 2018-19 than a decade earlier.  Ultimately, Covid-19 has only exacerbated mental health issues such as eating disorders, body dysmorphia, depression and other issues.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that, between April and June this year, a staggering 200,000 young people were referred to NHS mental health services. This is nearly double pre-pandemic levels.

Does our society do enough to support young people as they transition through difficult periods of their lives?

During lockdown, a few of my friends have shared their experiences of loneliness and isolation, which negatively impacted their mental wellbeing at times. While for some, this may not have drastic lasting effects, for others it’s been devastating.

Disrupted sleep patterns, less time with friends, fewer opportunities to engage in hobbies that help keep mindsets healthy have been some of the many negative consequences of being isolated for long periods.

Social media seems to be a double-edged sword, that can both help and hinder. On the one hand, it allows us to stay connected, helping with isolation. However, for those spending long periods of time alone at home, with increased social media use, there is potential to succumb to online peer pressure, exposure to misinformation and negative news stories.

This crisis in children and young people’s well-being resonated with me, as I remember a particular post on social media that started circulating and gaining attention during the pandemic. The post was a list of concepts taught at schools, juxtaposed with a much longer list of things that the education system failed to teach – such as mindfulness, self-esteem, the importance of sleep and even how to handle finances.

It really dawned on me how unprepared young people, myself included, are to enter the adult world. I clearly recall students at university struggling to manage their finances, unable to keep healthy sleeping patterns and simply being unfamiliar with the basics of living independently.

Infographic © @LetsTalk.MentalHealth

Research from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University reinforces the importance of our childhood environment in shaping our experiences later in life. The author writes:

“As early experiences shape the architecture of the developing brain, they also lay the foundations of sound mental health. Disruptions to this developmental process can impair a child’s capacities for learning and relating to others – with lifelong implications. By improving children’s environments of relationships and experiences early in life, society can address many costly problems, including incarceration, homelessness, and the failure to complete high school.”

Ultimately, we need more resources in place to prepare our children for the future. Whether that’s lessons about looking after our mental health and mindfulness, how to deal with finances and even how to form healthy friendships and relationships, these factors are evidently vital for their future development.

The following resource from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, NSPCC offers helpful tips and strategies to promote mental health and wellbeing for children.

It’s never too early to talk to young people and encourage them to speak out and share their feelings. The earlier, the better!

If you are struggling and need support, here is a list of helplines that you can use to talk to somebody.

I highly recommend sharing your thoughts and feeling here with the supportive, safe and very friendly Exposure team.

Nikol graduated from King’s College London with a first-class degree in Spanish and Portuguese studies. She is of Bulgarian origin, enjoys dancing, travelling and learning about history and culture. Nikol enjoys tackling and investigating difficult and taboo topics in her writing.

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