The facts are in. According to children’s mental health charity Place2Be, one in eight children and young people have a diagnosable mental health problem. Half of those with lifetime mental health problems have experienced symptoms by the age of 14 and rates of anxiety and depression in teenagers has increased by 70% in the past 25 years.
What are mental health needs?
The term ‘mental health’ covers a wide range of behaviours and concerns. This includes (but is not limited to):
- Bereavement and loss
- Eating problems
- Low mood or depression
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviour
To read more on each of the mental health needs individually, including how to spot the signs, top tips, advice and resources, Mentally Healthy Schools have a fantastic website full of information to help anybody working with children who may be vulnerable. The first step however, is knowing how to begin the conversation. Here are 11 top tips from the project on how to start a conversation about mental health with a child:
- If a child discloses in class, offer empathy, invite them to talk in a safer, relaxed and more private setting and talk to your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) for advice about how the situation should be managed.
- If you invite a young person to tell you their personal issues, be clear what you will do with this information. Consider how you will respond if asked ‘not to tell anyone’.
- Sit on a low chair if you can – so there is less height difference and you will be more approachable.
- Check with the child if there are other trusted adults or friends they have talked to or could talk to.
- Listen carefully, be calm, patient and friendly and give your full attention.
- Check your body language so that the child knows you are focusing on them.
- Take what they’re saying seriously. Don’t over-react but don’t try to minimise or dismiss what they are saying. Ask open questions to encourage them to talk.
- For young children drawing, modelling or playing with toys while the conversation is progressing can be helpful.
- Offer empathy and understanding rather than solutions. When a child receives empathy they begin to develop trust.
- Remember we are all different and children will respond in their own unique way to their experiences.
- Remember that children with SEND (special educational needs & disability) may struggle even more to articulate their feelings and thoughts and may need extra support.
Children’s Mental Health Week is set up by the charity and helps to highlight the importance of children’s mental health. Concentrating on bravery this year, Place2Be are encouraging young people to speak out about their worries. By inspiring children to take small steps each day, such as asking for help when they need it or trying something new, the charity hopes that we can support more of those young people struggling with mental health concerns.
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