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/ / Anxiety: Supporting children’s mental health

Anxiety: Supporting children’s mental health

One of every parent’s goals is to empower their children to build lifelong coping skills, thrive, and bounce back from life challenges. We all want our children to be resilient to the difficulties life throws at us. But, knowing exactly how to do this can be difficult. And unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all hack” to raising resilient children. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to help understand what children are feeling, help them communicate their worries and put support and strategies in place to help them.

What is the difference between worry and anxiety?

The terms anxiety and worry are often used interchangeably, but they are, in fact, very different. Some of the key differences are:

  • Worry is often experienced in our heads as thoughts and anxiety in our bodies. 
  • Worry tends to be specific, while anxiety is more of a generalised feeling.
  • Worry creates mild emotional discomfort; Anxiety can create severe emotional distress.
  • Worry is generally more of a temporary feeling, and anxiety lingers for long periods.
  • Worry doesn’t impact our ability to thrive in our daily lives; anxiety does.

Children mental health statistics:

1 in 8 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder – that’s roughly 3 children in every classroom.

1 in 6 young people aged 16-24 has symptoms of a common mental disorder such as depression or an anxiety disorder.

But unfortunately:

Less than 1 in 3 children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition get access to NHS care and treatment. 

Less than 1% of the total NHS budget is spent on children and young people’s mental health services.

How do I spot the early signs of anxiety and depression?

Signs of emerging mental health concerns in children and young people, as stated in the DSM-5, often include a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Constant low mood or feelings of sadness.
  • Persistently grumpy or irritable.
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Persistent tired or exhausted feelings. 
  • Experience difficulty in sleeping or eating.
  • Lack confidence to face simple ‘everyday’ challenges.
  • Be unwilling or afraid to try new things.
  • Become irritable, tearful or clingy.
  • Have angry outbursts.
  • Find it hard to concentrate.
  • Have negative and destructive thoughts.
  • Avoid social activities.

For a more comprehensive list, please visit the NHS website.

These symptoms can present differently in each individual. Just because you spot some of them doesn’t necessarily mean that your son or daughter suffers from clinical depression, anxiety disorder, or other mental illness. We will talk about where to ask for help below, which will be helpful if you think your child ticks a few of the above boxes.

How do I access child mental health support?

To access support for your child’s Mental health diagnosis, an excellent first point of call with be talking to your GP. This can be difficult as many young people (and adults) feel a stigma surrounding discussing their mental health. 

Being open about your own feelings and mental health when discussing accessing support will be really useful. Using examples of celebrities who have been honest about their mental health concerns is another good option. 

In the event that your child’s mental health diagnosis requires further clinical intervention, the likelihood is that your GP will refer you to the child adolescent mental health services (CAMHs). There is often a lengthy wait for these referrals, but in the meantime, you can use the strategies below to continue to support, help and nurture your son’s 

 If no diagnosis is made, such as clinical depression or anxiety disorder, but you are still really concerned about your child’s state of mind, do persevere. The average waiting time for children in 2017/18 was 5 weeks to receive an initial assessment and 9 weeks to receive treatment.

Suppose the concerns about your child are only just emerging. In that case, you may wish to access different avenues of support as preventative measures. Practical early mental health support can prevent children’s mental health from spiralling and prevent the need for clinical intervention later. 

Such services include finding youth mentors or wellbeing practitioners how can support your child and offer targeted interventions and mentoring to work through issues and build resilience. 

You can find a list of helpful phone numbers and free support services for yourself and your child here.

How can I support my child’s emerging mental health concerns at home?

Knowing how to support children’s mental health can be daunting. Nonetheless, we have listed some basic strategies below that are a good starting point.

Building a support network: When a loved one struggles with a problem, it can greatly impact your own life and feelings. Supporting that person and letting them know you are there to help can bring you closer together. Just remember to look after yourself too. 

Anxious child with mum

Talking with somebody they trust and sharing their problems can be a really positive experience. It allows them to realise they are not alone and help them take a different outlook on their situation. 

In fact, having and utilising strong support networks is one factor that helps us all to develop healthy coping strategies and positive mental health attitudes. 

Children’s mental health and social media: Young people use social media for many reasons. Using social media can be positive and help some young people access support, receive reassurance, feel connected or manage social anxiety.

But for others, using social media can become compulsive and fuel unhealthy comparisons. It can expose them to bullying and see them becoming more isolated, leading to their mental health deteriorating. 

It is beneficial to be aware of your son or daughter’s social media use and consider limiting exposure to elements that could be causing distress. Likewise, promoting using technology for positive support such as charitable organisations helplines such as KOOTH. 

Finally, the fact you are reading this blog shows you are doing great. You care phenomenally about your child’s mental health, and you are open to trying new ways of supporting your child. Just remember, sometimes it’s okay not to be okay, and it’s always okay to ask for help. 

Getting outside and enjoying the sun: When people, young and old, feel anxious or depressed, it is not uncommon for them to shut the curtains, leave their living space a mess and retreat under the cover of darkness. 

It leaves a very clear message: “Go away. Do not disturb!” But this isn’t good for us.

Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.

Sunshine also provides you with vitamin D and has significant psychological benefits. Encouraging your loved ones to open the curtains, let the sunshine in or go for a walk is a great way to hack those happiness hormones. 

Coping skills, workbooks, resources and mentors: Learning coping skills by reading books, purchasing workbooks or utilising free online resources is another fabulous way to build resilience against ill mental health. 

Some of our favourites include:

  • Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Building Positive Self-Esteem for Young People: 9 (Gremlin and Thief CBT Workbooks)
  • Don’t Worry, Be Happy: A Child’s Guide to Dealing With Feeling Anxious
  • Starving the Anxiety Gremlin: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Anxiety Management for Young People: 1 (Gremlin and Thief CBT Workbooks)
  • The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside and Frank Rodgers

If you struggle to find relevant resources, our team would be more than happy to guide and support you in finding the best options.

Finally, the fact you are reading this blog shows you are doing great. You care phenomenally about your child’s mental health, and you are open to trying new ways of supporting your loved ones.

Just remember, sometimes it’s okay not to be okay, and it’s always okay to ask for help.