Did you know that 3.3 million young people in the UK currently struggle with their mental health? If you have found this post because you suspect your child has mental health issues then you are definitely not alone. The pandemic has put a huge strain on many young people – creating new mental health issues or magnifying existing issues because of the extra pressures that have been put on them.
If you are concerned that your child has mental health issues, and you’re not sure what to do next or how best to support them, today we have Dr Jai Shree Adhyaru, Chartered Counselling Psychologist who also sits on the advisory board for Hidden Strength – a new cutting-edge app, Hidden Strength, which will uniquely offer free 24/7 access to professional therapists for the 3.3 million young people aged 13-24 in the UK struggling with their mental health – to help us navigate through this as parents.
Objectively it can be difficult for a parent to identify whether a child is experiencing mental health difficultiesand so open conversations are a good place to start. As a parent, you are well placed to notice any significant changes in your child’s behaviour over time, from their ‘usual’ behaviour. Some changes might be sudden and seemingly unexplained or your child might tell you that they are struggling with something. You might notice changes in eating habits, sleep, activity, performance or engagement with school or relationship difficulties at home or within friendship groups. Some of these signs could indicate that your child is struggling with their mental health but it’s also important to explore other factors too.
Childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood is marked with challenges and changes so it can be difficult to know what is part of usual development and what might constitute the onset of a mental health issue. Perhaps consider the impact of any difficulties in your child’s life on their everyday functioning. Are they struggling with relationships with other people either at home or with friends, in education or work as well as impact on their usual activity levels? As a parent, you will notice when this is more than a phase because usually you are able to help your child navigate challenges through your parenting skills. However, when you observe your child be behaving in a way that isn’t characteristic, you might pay attention to the following:
Do you notice any unusual patterns in their behaviour e.g. staying awake until early hours? Going into their room at particular times in a sudden change from their normal behaviour? Are there any triggers to changes in behaviour or mood? Does your child recognise this pattern?
Do they talk in negative terms about themselves or their life or their future? Do they talk about certain topics repeatedly? Do they express worry?
Are they quieter than usual? More angry? More sensitive?
Is there anything going for you or with your family that your child might be picking up on?
Emotional disorders, particularly anxiety and depression, are on the rise (LGA, 2021). Consumer research conducted by Hidden Strength in April 2021 found that 1 in 5 13-24 year olds (22%) were suffering from depression and 18% from anxiety. Of course, COVID-19 has had an impact that we are yet to fully understand.
In April 2021, 58% of the young people Hidden Strength surveyed reported mental health difficulties that emerged since the 1 lockdown in March 2020 with 23% being ‘very anxious’ about the easing of lockdown restrictionsand so it’s helpful to explore what this might mean for your child. During this period, some parents have worried about the time their children are spending online but we are only just beginning to understand how the increasing prevalence of social media is impacting young people’s emotional health.
Having some prior information from a credible source can be helpful (see below) as well as seeking out professional guidance. However, in the first instance, talking to your child to understand their difficulties from their perspective will help them feel validated; show empathy and care and reinforce that you are there for them. Having a regular time for a ‘check in chat’ that is dedicated to talking with your child about how they are doing and listening to them can be helpful, and provide the space for them to discuss more difficult areas such as their mental health or wellbeingas and when they arise.
Your child might take time to open up or find it difficult to articulate their feelings into words or openly discuss things with you or refuse to talk to you. Nevertheless and regardless of their reaction, offering space to chat provides them with the opportunity to confide in you if they choose to. Ultimately if you think your child needs to speak to a mental health professional it is most beneficial if they understand why you think this is necessary and when you can engage them in the process.
Anytime you have a question! If in doubt, check it out by referring to a credible source or health professional. There is no harm in asking questions and seeking guidance at any point.
The good news is that there are many avenues of support available to parents, depending on your child’s needs. If you think your child would benefit from professional support, your GP is best placed to provide information about and referral routes to mental health services and also identify whether other types of support might be helpful. Your child might also be able to access emotional support at school through pastoral care services.
Your GP might refer your child to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)and schools can also make referrals to CAMHS. Your GP will also be best placed to information about local provision that might be quicker to access as waiting times and thresholds for CAMHS can vary across the country. Young people can also access advice, support and therapy from online platforms through chat-based services such as Hidden Strength. In addition, counsellors and therapists are available privately and through the voluntary sector [there’s an article here on how to navigate the field of professional helpers!]
In supporting your child, you might find it helpful to have some extra support for yourself, whether this is to learn more about a specific issue that your child is struggling with, to understand how you can best support them, to find out more about their diagnosis if they have one or to connect with other parents or have a space to reflect on your own wellbeing – whatever the need, for both you and your child, help is available. Support for parents is available through your GP, from mental health charities and online platforms such as www.hiddenstrength.com which provide information and resources about topics relevant to children’s wellbeing and mental health.
Be informed about what might be going on for your child. Ask them directly, talk to other parents or find an online community or information resource that is relevant to helping you best support your child. You are not expected to be a perfect parent, nor to get it right (whatever that means?!) every time. In connecting with others’ experiences you will see that your struggles are not unique and solutions are available. I think it was Howard Huff who said “it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark”.
Learning about what issues are affecting children and young people will help you identify the early signs that something might be wrong, It will also help you to ask relevant questions to open up conversations about things that could be affecting your child, such as returning to school, following COVID-19 restrictions friendship andbullying issues, loneliness, concerns about body image or online behaviours as well as mental health difficulties.
Teaching and modelling self-careis important. Your child is as much influenced by your behaviour as you are by theirs and most children learn from adults by observing what they do. It’s important to strike a balance between all of life’s demands and have discussions about what self care looks like in your family. How do people relax and unwind? What does your family do for fun? What do people do when they are struggling? How does the family view mental health and how is it talked about?
You don’t have to deal with your child’s struggles alone, so build up your support network whether that’s through friends, other parents or through seeking guidance from professionals. It can feel as though you have sole responsibility for ‘fixing’ your child but remember that sometimes people will live with mental health difficulties and learn to manage their condition. Seeing mental health as a problem to be fixed can diminish the experience of the child and also place undue pressure on yourself.
Each child tackles life challenges in their own way, at their own pace and will benefit from support from a range of adults as well as their peers. Hidden Strength’s consumer research highlighted that only 28% of this age group had spoken to a parent about their mental wellbeing with half of this group feeling that their mental health issue wasn’t considered serious by their parents. What this suggests is that some young people would prefer to talk to someone outside of the family; don’t take this personally! However, it also points to the potential for parents to consider how conversations about wellbeing can take place so children feel supported.
Helping your child figure out what is going on for them and letting them know you are there to help really goes a long way. Listening without offering solutions might feel hard at first and communication styles vary between families so think about how your family communicates care and empathy and maximise this. Ask your child what they think would be helpful, and what you can do to help. Learn from observing your child, seeking feedback and noticing what works and what doesn’t work so well. Your child might be open to seeking professional help or perhaps they don’t feel ready just yet. In either case, you are on this journey together and your role is to walk alongside them showing them options and guiding them towards positive choices. In order to do this, make sure you are taking care of yourself too.
Hidden Strength is a unique, digital mental health platform for young people which offers free support and advice in a safe, anonymous environment. It is supported by leading industry professionals and provides meaningful and immediate 24/7 support to people aged 13-24 with their mental health and wellbeing through a multi-layer, free digital platform.
The Hidden Strength app is free to access for young people aged 13-24. It facilitates a community of like-minded people to come together, support each other, and have 24/7 access to tools and activities to promote holistic mental wellbeing. It offers real-time support for young people in crisis or struggling with their mental health with free, round-the-clock access to therapists.
Hidden Strength has a strictly enforced age restriction. Only those aged 13-24 can sign up via a secure identity verification process.
The Hidden Strength app is available now on iOS and Android. Users can register their place on the waiting list before the app’s features become fully accessible in June.