Action to better support young people's mental health

By Joe Lepper

| 10 October 2019

While the majority of children lead happy lives, many are battling or at risk of mental health problems.

Siblings are able to provide valuable mental health support to each other. Picture: Pololia/Adobe Stock

Two reports released this month to tie-in with World Mental Health Day lay bare the mental health risks that children and young people face and the action needed to help them lead happy lives.

The first of these is the Department for Education's State of the Nation: Children and Young People's Wellbeing report that found that five per cent of 10- to 15-year-olds feel unhappy and three per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds report low satisfaction with their life.

This report also looks at how bullying, and in particular online abuse, is impacting on young people's mental health. In addition, it involves a specific focus on how teenage girls' mental health can be better supported.

The second report has been published by Carers Trust and offers a guide to mental health professionals on how they can better support young people and their families.

This aims to help those working in health services to better identify, understand and support carers, including young carers supporting a family member as well as parents and carers of young people.

Here we look at the key findings from these two reports and the action needed to ensure young people's mental health is protected.

Understanding the impact of bullying

According to the DfE's report "experiences of being bullied, including online bullying, was the risk factor most strongly associated" with mental health in mid to late teenagers.

Latest crime statistics back this up by showing how 17 per cent of 10- to 15-year-olds in England reported being bullied in 2017/18.

Those supporting young people are being urged to ensure they realise the major impact of bullying on young people's mental health and are particularly vigilent of such abuse among the at risk groups.

The DfE report says that younger children are particularly at risk as "the prevalence of bullying decreased as children got older".

A breakdown of the figures shows that in terms of ethnicity, white children are among the most at risk of bullying groups.

Others that professionals need to better support are children with a long-term illness or disability or those who receive additional help at school.

This also includes young carers, with figures from the Anti-Bullying Alliance showing that 68 per cent of young carers had been bullied at school and more than half have reported cyber bullying attacks.

Ensure young people are sleeping well

The DfE's report's focus on the mental health of teenage girls showed how important sleep is to young people.

The report found that getting enough sleep was a "consistent protective factor" for girls aged between 14 and 18.

This report also found that while social media and screen time were not negatively impacting on teenage girls' mental health, any detrimental effects could be "through it displacing other positive activites, such as exercise and sleep, rather that through direct impacts on wellbeing".

Importance of siblings

Young people place a high value on the relationship they have with friends and family, which "have the strongest links to children and young people's wellbeing" says the DfE report.

This is particularly the case with siblings, who are able to provide valuable mental health support to each other.

The Carers Trust report says that sadly there is "a lack of recognition of siblings and the feeling that their views and ideas are not listened to".

It adds: "It is important to identify parents, siblings and other family members as carers, where they are providing additional support to the child or young person.

"What is often forgotten is how much support is given to children and young people by their brothers or sisters. Siblings often feel that they were one of the very few people that their brother or sister could talk to."

Professionals are advised to properly recognise the views of siblings who can "often have unique insights into the support needs of their brother or sister".

Don't blame the parents

The Carers Trust is concerned about a "culture of parent blaming when a child develops a mental health need" among mental health services.

Health services are also urged to better understand the impact on parents of being a carer for a child with additional needs.

One parent carer told the charity: "I feel that they see you as a ‘parent' and caring for a child whilst poorly is just what a parent does, not understanding the impact that 24-hour care of a child, when you have to work and have no one else to care for that child, actually has on a person."

Another said: "I was shut out, ignored and treated, at times, as an overbearing parent when I insisted on an emergency appointment or support for my daughter after she went into crisis and we were at our wits' end!"

Impact of change

Transition within a child's life, whether moving schools, changes in carers or the move to adult services can have an impact on their mental health if not properly managed, says the Carers Trust.

The charity's report recommends that carers and young people "get the right support" from mental health professionals in this transition period.

The DfE report also notes how transitions can have "substantial impacts on children's wellbeing" particularly through their school life and further education.

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