This week is Children's Mental Health Awareness Week, a topic that is so unbelievably important yet often overlooked and dismissed. When people think of mental illness, they never really think of children. So many seem to just assume that they are "too young" to experience a mental health condition and that their brains "aren't developed enough", but this is incorrect. Roughly one out of ten children will suffer with a mental disorder, and the numbers just continue to rise, yet the majority won't be given the help or support that they need.
Usually, these children will suffer in silence due to the fact that they don't understand how to properly express themselves and aren't ever really taught to. This, more often than not, leads to much larger issues in adulthood. So, again, I pose the question: why are we not teaching them about this? Should mental health not be a part of the national curriculum just like sex education is? I mean, for me, it's a no brainer. When I was in school, I don't remember ever being taught about mental health. People did not talk about it; it just wasn't something that happened. As a result, mental disorders carried this sense of embarrassment and shame with them; the taboo that is still ever-present to this day. This was very damaging for me, especially as I came to terms with my own issues later on in life that possibly could have been addressed much earlier. I received no help for my anxiety and panic attacks until I was eighteen; it has hindered my way of life ever since, and I know that I'm not alone.
It is possible for children to suffer from disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, autism, eating disorders, mood disorders and schizophrenia. The tell-tale signs are usually things like extreme mood swings and sadness, weight loss, unexplained sickness and headaches, trouble concentrating, harming themselves or harming others, as well as behavioural changes and sudden alterations in personality. The importance of recognising these signs and talking about them means that they are able to gather a better understanding of how they are feeling, as well as receive help and support from people they trust. I recently ran a poll on Twitter asking people if they felt they had received enough education and support in regards to mental health at school, and a huge 97% said no. However, a large amount of schools in the UK claim that they do not have access to a counsellor or other mental health services for their students, mainly due to insufficient funds. Even more worryingly, many teachers admit that they have never even been given training to deal with these kinds of situations at all.
So, what can we do about it? There are many petitions that you can sign such as this one calling on the government to make young people's mental health a priority, as well as this petition to make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools. If you are a parent; be there for your child. Allow them to confide in you without judgement or shame. If you are worried about them and you aren't sure what to do, there are services for you too. Young Minds offers a helpline for parents, which you can read more about here, providing free and confidential advice and support. Young Minds also have a whole section on their website catered to young people who may be confused and scared about their mental wellbeing, as well as offering support to those who feel that they have nobody to talk to, which you can access here.
We need to keep talking, educating and pushing for change. Mental health conditions can be terrifying and isolating, and no child should have to face that alone.