This World Mental Health Day mental health expert Noel McDermott looks at children’s mental health and the increasing need to support the nation’s youth. The news recently has been full of high absence rates from school for children since the pandemic and although the specifics for the rising numbers of absences are not yet properly researched, we can say that consistently in the world of work, absenteeism is a major reason in psychological distress and there is every indication this is so for the nation’s children currently.
Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing rising indicators across the board that kids were struggling with, for example, increasing numbers being admitted for hospital treatment for eating disorders* and that trend is sadly ongoing and increasing in England**.
The pandemic had the impact of accelerating trends that were happening anyway and post-pandemic we have seen war and poverty hit us globally with families struggling with multiple problems. Research into absences from schools has indicated that there is a differential impact on kids depending on socioeconomic status and this makes sense as a major stressor in life is around home and money. If they are under strain, we respond with ill health often***. Kids from wealthier families are protected but not completely shielded from the stressors of life currently.
The rise of mental health struggles though is not limited to serious problems such as eating disorders, with increases in common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and some research suggests up to 75% of kids with diagnosable mental health problems are not getting the help they need****. Child and adolescent mental health services have been struggling for many years now to meet needs and schools certainly need more help. But it is of serious concern to see absenteeism rise in schools so much as they have always been seen as a source of resilience for kids, simply by being there.
Spotting that your child is struggling is very important and key indicators are:
- sleep disturbances
- major changes to outlook or mood
- disturbances and significant changes to appetite and food
- problems in concentration more than usual
- dysregulation (anger and bad behaviour) and or increased irritability
- social withdrawal and isolation
- nervousness and being on edge all the time.
When to be concerned
It’s important to look at these indicators in terms of severity and duration. Very severe and sudden onset should be alarming and milder, but persistent over a number of weeks should also be alarming. Episodes of a couple of days at mild to moderate severity usually are just part of life. It’s important to flag up concerns with the professionals who know your kids, the school, maybe a health visitor, your GP etc.
What you can do as parents and a family though are significant and although known by a number of names are often referred to as lifestyle medicine or the four pillars of health and they are:
- Nutrition – healthy diet with a ratio of 10% meat to 90% plant – plus your five-a-day fruit etc.
- Exercise – at least 30 minutes a day of using your muscles such as walking.
- Relaxation/stress management – learning how to relax and manage stress levels in your body is crucial to health and well-being.
- Sleep – learning good sleep hygiene underpins having a healthy mind and body.
Mental health expert Noel McDermott comments: “This approach is evidence-based to improve physical and psychological health and pretty straightforward to implement. Other resources and skills parents can use are DOSE your kids up and your life as a family: close on the heels of fun is healthy, is understanding how we can give ourselves positive hormonal boosts dopamine (rewards prosocial activities improves motivation) oxytocin makes you feel loved up after a cuddle, serotonin improves mood after getting some sun or having a walk in the park, endorphins make you feel great after strenuous activities such as a game of footie.”.
Changes in policy
Another thing we need to look at as parents are forcing our policymakers to take note. Children are struggling more and more, and we should be concerned about this, we need to add this to the agenda for our politicians. They seem to be far too interested in their own internal party debates and our kids are facing multiple and increasing problems. If you’re looking for change, ask your MP to give you a list of things they have done to make your child’s life happier and healthier. If they can’t do that, ask the person who wants to replace them what they have done in the past and are willing to commit to doing in the future.
Noel McDermott is a mental health expert with over 25 years’ of experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home – www.noelmcdermott.net
- ** https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/media-centre/young-people-with-eating-disorders-on-the-rise-in-england/
- *** https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/the-rising-tide-of-school-absences-in-the-post-pandemic-era/