Recent research suggests that 25-40% of children aged 6-19 have experienced a decline in their mental health since 2017, with five in thirty children in a classroom likely to be struggling with mental health difficulties.
As Children’s Mental Health Week starts today with the theme “Let’s Connect”, we asked Classlist partner Oxford CBT to share their perspective on how this crisis has evolved, and the important role that parent communities can play in building connections; open communication; education and identifying resources which can help.
How can we meet the increasing mental health needs of children and adolescents in 2023?
According to research, adolescents and children's mental health has been in crisis for almost a decade. The pandemic, hardship, emotional instability, trauma, and rising technology use are all factors influencing this trend.
Mental health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being, especially in the development of young people that can negatively impact their lives and lead to serious health issues if left untreated. In 2023, there have been several variables that have affected the mental health of this demographic and that’s why it is essential now more than ever for communities, schools and caregivers to work together to support the mental health of children and adolescents.
Taking a snapshot look into the reports and research on the mental health of adolescents and children over recent years will help to uncover the key findings that identify the challenges they face and continue to face, how they feel as a result, and what can be done to better it, either by themselves or with the assistance of their friends, family, and community.
A growing mental health crisis for the youth
How have children and young people's mental health changed over recent years?
It is widely acknowledged that there has been a significant increase in the prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people in recent years.
The probability of a young person having a mental health issue has climbed by 50% over the past three years. Now, five of the thirty students in a classroom are likely struggling with mental health difficulties.
Since 2017, 39.2% of children aged 6 to 16 had experienced a decline in their mental health and for adolescents aged 17 to 19 years, rates of a probable mental disorder rose from 1 in 10 in 2017 to 1 in 4 in 2022.
Here is some more research regarding children and adolescents’ mental health:
- Prevalence of mental health problems: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide suffer from mental health problems.
- The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates that approximately 1 in 10 children and adolescents in the UK are living with a mental health illness, and many more are at risk of developing one.
- Increased incidence of anxiety and depression: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in the incidence of anxiety and depression in children and young people. A survey conducted in 2020 found that 41% of teenagers reported symptoms of depression, and 27% reported symptoms of anxiety.
- Access to care: Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people, access to mental health care remains limited. It is estimated that up to 80% of children with mental health problems do not receive the treatment they need.
- Stigma and discrimination: Stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health can prevent children and young people from seeking help. According to the Mental Health Foundation, nearly half of young people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination.
- Impact on education: Mental health problems can have a significant impact on children's education, with studies showing that mental health problems are associated with lower educational attainment and increased school absenteeism.
- Long-term consequences: If left unaddressed, mental health problems in childhood can have long-term consequences, including increased relationship problems, and poor physical health.
These statistics highlight the importance of addressing children and young people's mental health and ensuring that they have access to the support and resources they need. 50% of many mental health problems start by the age of 14 according to statistics from the Children’s Society with 1-in-6 children aged between 5-16 likely to have a mental health problem. 66% of the test sample also reported that they couldn’t get support when they needed it.
The pandemic appears to have accelerated the problem and possibly taken a toll on children's emotional well-being and mental health due to the sudden and widespread changes to daily life, including school closures, social isolation, the loss of in-person interaction with friends and extended family and uncertainty about the future. Children had reported increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Taking a deeper dive into The State of the Nation 2021 Report that combines data from a number of published sources to help the Government, educational institutions, public services and parents can help us better understand children and young people’s experiences and the ongoing support that will be needed to make sure that recovery continues.
The impact on mental well-being and social behaviour
The experiences of the pandemic and being confined to the home are now being experienced by students in ways of social interactions and connectedness.
Returning to school or college was thought to be crucial for improving many students' mental well-being because it would help alleviate some of the major concerns found in the research, such as time away from school, being isolated from friends, having fewer opportunities to be more physically active, and also giving them access to pastoral support. However, young people may be facing extra difficulties as a direct result of the pandemic, such as loss, stress, trauma, or anxiety over that time period.
Students have difficulty with social interactions and managing their emotions.
Research shows that while some children were keen to return, others suffered from a lot of anxiety when it came to returning to typical school settings. Some children reported heightened separation anxiety as they had become used to spending more time with their families. Other children returned to school feeling anxious and overstimulated in social situations (likening to symptoms of social anxiety). Reports also indicated positive interactions with students when wearing masks, interestingly teachers had observed students expressing their emotions more openly via their eyes and body language. Since nonverbal cues were less prevalent than before, students were also found to be talking more.
Parents and teachers concerned for children’s mental health
According to a Pew Research Center poll, more than three-quarters of parents are at least somewhat concerned about the mental health of their children in the midst of the current crisis. The survey included 3,757 U.S. parents with children under 18 years old. Mental health was the first most pressing issue on the parents' list of worries followed by bullying. 40% of respondents said they were extremely or very worried about their children experiencing anxiety or depression.
Concerns amongst parents and education staff are growing as they notice young people struggling more at school and at home, this is unclear if it is directly from the experiences of the pandemic or has accelerated mental health issues that were already present before and now emphasised or heightened from what happened.
Spot the signs of children’s mental health
Children’s mental health disorders are identified and managed based on their signs and symptoms as well as how this affects or impacts their daily lives.
Noticing the signs early can help get the young person the support they need and back on track. These are some signs that indicate a young person may have a mental health disorder.
- Prolonged sadness that lasts two weeks or longer
- Irritability or emotional outbursts
- Loss of interest, withdrawing from tasks/activities of their interest, avoiding social interactions or self-isolation
- Harming themself or discussing injuring themselves
- Risky and out-of-control behaviour that may be dangerous
- Changes in mood, behaviour or personality
- Weight loss
- Sleep difficulties
- Difficulty concentrating or losing the focus
- Avoiding or continuous excuses to not attend school or difficulty in coping with schoolwork
Tom Murfitt, Clinical Director of Oxford CBT expressed the importance of early intervention "One of the best predictors of recovery is early intervention. Getting your loved one the support they need as soon as they are experiencing difficulties before unhelpful ways of coping become hard to change habits".
What can be done to help support children and young people’s mental health?
In light of these challenges, it is crucial for communities and schools to support children's mental health and provide resources and support to help them navigate through the effects. Here are several ways that can help:
- Educate the public: The first step in addressing children's mental health is educating the public on the importance of mental health and how to recognize the signs of mental health problems in children. Schools and community organizations can play a key role in this by providing mental health awareness programs and workshops.
- Encourage open communication: Children are more likely to seek help if they feel comfortable discussing their mental health with others. Communities can help by promoting open and honest conversations about mental health and providing a safe and supportive environment for children to talk about their feelings.
- Promote physical activity and healthy habits: Exercise and healthy habits have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. Communities may support children's physical activity by supporting healthy routines such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and enough sleep.
- Support families: Mental health problems can put a strain on families. Communities can help by providing support to families who are struggling with a child's mental health problem. This may include offering resources for parents, providing support groups for families, and connecting them with mental health professionals.
- Parents & caregivers: Encouraging a positive balance for socialising and connectedness in relationships through finding the time as a parent to connect with others outside of school and role-model these actions to the children. Don’t forget to regularly check In with yourself, It Is important to recognise that raising children or caring for a young person can be challenging and In trying times, it’s quite normal to feel anxious, worried, or powerless. It is just as important that you take care of your own mental well-being in order to keep yourself well and be able to continue to help your loved ones.
- Address school-related stressors: Schools can play a significant role in supporting children and young people's mental health by addressing school-related stressors. This may include easing academic pressure, creating a positive and pleasant school environment, and addressing bullying and other forms of negative behaviours.
- Community collaboration: Effective collaboration between schools, community organizations, and healthcare providers is also crucial in meeting the increasing mental health needs of children. This can involve sharing information and resources, working together to provide comprehensive services, and ensuring that adolescents and children have access to a range of mental health services.
- Student Support: Referring to the variety of services offered for students' mental, emotional, and spiritual health. While the majority of institutions will have programmes specifically designed to provide this assistance, however, can be overstretched and encounter obstacles such as restricted access to finances and resource availability. The educational team are pivotal to this process for shared accountability and efficient use of resources and skills are essential to promoting students' wellness. Better pastoral care is a work in progress which will take time to thoughtfully implement.
- Provide resources: Communities can help by providing resources for children and families who are struggling with mental health problems. This may include support groups and information on counselling services and mental health clinics. Communities may contribute to ensuring that children receive the support they require by making resources widely available and easily accessible. There is little question, that speaking with a professional who is able to identify and provide the right kind of support can be quite helpful for young people. This creates a setting where they may express themselves honestly and openly about their thoughts and feelings while also learning how to overcome their difficulties. Mental Health support for young people can be accessed through various channels including at your GP practice or opting for a private mental health service which usually can assess patients quicker with reduced wait times. In most instances, initial assessments will recommend that young people undertake a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), an evidence-based talking therapy designed to help people manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. These sessions will help young people learn strategies that will enable them to cope in situations which trigger anxiety and overcome their difficulties.
In conclusion, the mental health of children and young people in 2023 has been significantly impacted by a range of factors, including the pandemic. There are a number of strategies that can be implemented to meet the increasing mental health needs of adolescents and children in 2023 but requires a coordinated effort from the community, schools, and parents. These include educating the public, improving access to mental health services, integrating mental health into schools, providing resources, encouraging open communication, encouraging physical activity and reducing screen time, supporting families, and building resilience. By taking a comprehensive and coordinated approach, we can create a supportive environment that helps young people and children thrive, both now and in the future.
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