Children deserve to be happy. Not only because they have a right to a happy childhood, and we owe them this much, but also as the crucial foundation stone in their journey to become tomorrow's adults.
850,000 children in the UK are suffering from mental health problems, including diagnosable mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm.[i]
All children face issues growing up, but for many, like those we support, there are additional and much tougher challenges, putting extra strain on their emotional wellbeing. They have to cope with difficult and often traumatic family problems, many are living in or soon to leave the care system to fend for themselves and others experience the impact of poor parental health or substance misuse.
Action for Children's own data shows that 49% of all 14 year-olds we worked with
from last April had emotional health needs and that 40% of parents worry about their children's emotional wellbeing.[ii] For the children we support not getting the love and care of a family, the opportunity to play, regular routines and being listened to means that they don't build the emotional resilience they need to cope with everyday challenges.
Good mental health starts in childhood. Research shows that 75% of mental illness in adult life starts before a child reaches 18 years-old.[iii] Mental health problems in young people can result in lower educational attainment - for example, children with conduct disorder are twice as likely as other children to leave school with no qualifications. Young people can develop risky behaviour such as smoking, drug and alcohol misuse and unsafe sex.
Despite the fact that one in ten children need support or treatment, at the moment, only 6% (£700 million) of the total Government spend on mental health goes to this age group.[iv]
The Department of Health recently announced a £1.4bn investment into young people's mental health. Much will depend, however, on whether this commitment can be turned into a reality on the ground. More new investment for mental health must be focused on prevention, support in early years and recovery.
The economic cost for not acting early to help children is substantial. The wider economic costs of mental illness in England have been estimated at over £105 billion each year. This includes direct costs of services, lost productivity at work and a reduced quality of life. With the future cost of mental ill health forecast to double in real terms over the next 20 years a greater focus on prevention, early diagnosis and intervention could lead to significant savings. [v]
But the true value of the positive impact on people's lives is much greater than money alone.
Our Space 4U service in Derbyshire is one of the ways we support UK children. Here the children are affected by their loved ones substance misuse is a strong example of how beneficial an integrated system of early support can be.
A seven-year-old boy - let's call him Joe - was recently referred to us with anxiety. His mum spent the last six months in rehab and his dad had been in prison. Joe was living with foster parents and was anxious because he was due to return home after his mum completed her treatment.
During counselling, our practitioners focused on the little things he could do on a daily basis to help himself. They reminded him of all that is positive in his life, like school and his friends. They worked together on building his confidence and self-esteem. Joe had a safe space to be heard and was reminded that he's not alone. Eventually, he overcame his anxiety and his emotional wellbeing improved a great deal as did his performance at school.
There is no guarantee as to how things will turn out for Joe in life. But had his emotional challenges remained unidentified and unresolved, we would all have been responsible for leaving a seven-year-old boy to deal with a problem he couldn't possibly have done all on his own.
It is up to all of us to make sure that children and young people, regardless of family circumstances and social status get the love, support and guidance that will lead them into adulthood with the resilience they need to cope in life.
Like the saying goes it takes a whole village to raise a child.
[i] According to the most recent survey commissioned over a decade ago. Green H, McGinnity A,Meltzer, Fort T, Goodman R (2005). Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, 2004. Aurvey carried out by the Office of National Statistics on behalf other the Department of Health and the Scottish Executive. Basingstock: Palgrame Macmillan.
[ii] Action for Children e-ASPIRE records: Between April and September 2015 we worked with over 32,000 children and young people. Reviewing the needs of 10,342 of these cases has shown that 29% of the children and young people we work (3,016) with have emotional health needs. This increases to 49% at the age of 14.
[iii] It is known that 50% of mental illness in adult life (excluding dementia) starts before age 15 and 75% by age 18. Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2012, Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/252660/33571_2901304_CMO_Chapter_10.pdf
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 firstname.lastname@example.org