THE BLOG

Children Deserve A Childhood That Doesn't Undermine Their Future Mental Health

01/09/2017 12:53

The Good Childhood Report 2017 released last week lays bare the scale of children and young people facing severe and multiple disadvantages in the UK.

Fear of crime is undermining good mental health for many, in fact, it was the most common problem revealed in the report, affecting 2.2 million children, with 1 in 3 teenage girls afraid of being followed by a stranger and 1 in 4 boys worried they'll be assaulted. Add this to the fact that more than a third are living in families struggling to pay the bills and the report paints a very worrying picture indeed.

In our recent report on the mental health of children and young people living with learning disabilities and mental health problems, we carried out our own focus groups. What we found mirrored the findings of last week's report, with young people feeling immersed in a fear based reality.

Young people with learning disabilities in particular highlighted that they were frightened of terrorist attacks and acid attacks and were worried about going out and leaving the house. Coming to terms with such horrific events, as rare as they are on a population level is difficult for all of us, but it is even more difficult for young people with learning disabilities to understand what risk they actually face.

We know that for young people, having a sense of security, safety and stability is a crucial building block of good mental health. It is the foundation on which young people can thrive, but young people today are not thriving at all. The report found that one million 10 to 17-year olds face seven or more of these serious problems in their lives.

Each one of these serious problems, whether they be family difficulties such as going through a divorce, or bullying at school, is also a mental health risk factor. The more risk factors and traumatic experiences young people face, the more likely they are to develop mental health problems further down the line.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study by the US Centre for Disease Control made a significant contribution to our understanding in this area. It uncovered striking links between the number of adverse experiences in childhood and the chronic diseases and mental health problems people develop as adults.

This is too big an issue than our health system alone to respond to. A lot of adverse childhood experiences are linked to other touch points in our society, such as education, justice and social security services for people facing unemployment or low waged insecure employment. The Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition has consistently called for greater cross-sector working to ensure that policies of other departments are not undermining the efforts of our health system. We can only hope that these calls are heard.

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