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A Third Of Parents Fear They Will Look Bad If Their Child Has A Mental Health Problem

16/02/2016 23:51 | Updated 18 February 2016

Almost a third of British parents feel they could look like a bad mother or father if their child has a mental health problem, according to exclusive research for The Huffington Post UK.

Nearly one in three (32%) of parents said they would worry that a child with a mental health issue would reflect badly on them, according to the poll, published as part of our Young Minds Matter series, guest edited by The Duchess of Cambridge.

The results highlight the stigma that young people and their parents face, as experts warned it is "incredibly important" for parents to intervene if their child is feeling unhappy.

Parents need to speak to their children about mental health without feeling it is "something shameful or something that can’t be talked about," said Miranda Wolpert, director of service improvement and evaluation at the Anna Freud Centre.

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A third of parents feel a child's mental health issues will reflect badly on their parenting (stock image)

"It’s a really major issue," she added. "We’ve seen in research that people feel very blamed and that stops them seeking help, and stops them talking about it."

The findings follow Prime Minister David Cameron's admission this week that more needs to be done to end the stigma around mental health, as around three-quarters of people facing problems receive no help at all.

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Infographic supplied by Statista

More than 1,000 parents with children under 18 were asked about their worries over mental health problems for the survey, carried out by YouGov.

Most parents also believe children are more prone to problems today than when they were growing up, according to the survey.

Two-thirds (66%) say problems such as depression and anxiety are more prevalent and most blame body image worries and pressure from social media.

Four-fifths (81%) of parents blame social media for making their children more vulnerable to mental health problems.

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Infographic supplied by Statista

Peter Fonagy, chief executive of the Anna Freud Centre, said that while children got many social benefits from using the internet, it could also be harmful.

"The more electronic media is used by a kid, the poorer their outcomes are in terms of wellbeing," he said. "With each hour of computer use the likelihood of emotional problems goes up."

Body image was another major concern, with more than two-thirds (69%) of parents thinking their children faced more pressure than they did.

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Social media and body image are the biggest concerns parents had (stock image)

Half of parents (49%) also highlighted the pressure of school work as a factor and a similar proportion (47%) felt children were more socially isolated than they used to be.

Research from the Anna Freud Centre last year showed early concern about body image could relate to self-harm later in life for some children.

Pressures to look a certain way often comes from other children, Fonagy said.

"Most information to young people comes via peers," he said. "There is some from the media but the media probably influences other kids. One way or another, the media starts affecting the whole social group and one thing kids are very vulnerable to is what other children think.”

From the age of six to nine, parents’ views become less important in a child’s life than opinions from others in the playground.

But parents still have a vital role in a child’s mental wellbeing, he cautioned.

"I want to stress that while the parents’ views may be less important, parental supervision of the child is incredibly important," said Fonagy.

"If they are not supervised, even if they seem to be ignoring the views of the parent, that kid is much more likely to go off the rails."

One in ten children suffers a mental health problem and half of all adult mental health problems begin before the age of 15, other research suggests.

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The Duchess of Cambridge is guest-editing HuffPost UK's Young Minds Matter series

Parents and teachers say more education and conversations are needed to intervene early and reduce the risks.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of parents in the HuffPost UK survey worried their children were suffering from mental health problem.

The vast majority (85%) said they often spoke to their child about their feelings and a similar proportion (83%) said they were confident in dealing with their child’s mental health state.

The Anna Freud Centre is calling for at least one member of staff in every school in the country to have some training in children’s mental health.

"I think there’s lots of really good things going on in schools but it’s not universal and schools need support,” said Wolpert. “Those schools that are pioneering need to be showcasing what they are doing."

"I think it’s excellent that The Huffington Post UK is doing this work, and more awareness is needed. I think it’s fantastic that the Duchess of Cambridge has chosen to give a voice to this group that all-too-often gets neglected."

Wolpert called for a united approach across different services for children with mental health needs.

"There’s an absolutely need for a step-change in relation to how we seek to radically improve the state of children’s mental health care in England," she said.

"What we urgently need is to integrate mental health support and services into our education health and social care systems, with services being built around the needs of children and young people and their families and not around the institutions who deliver them."

More From Young Minds Matter:

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK’s mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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