Young people get a lot of their information about mental health problems from the media. The negative coverage of mental ill-health linked to violence in the press unfortunately leads a large number to think they will get 'locked away' or ridiculed if they come forward with any problems.
The stigma associated with mental illness
Teens and children can find themselves ostracised, bullied or ignored at a time when they need help the most. The stigmatised language associated with mental ill health – ‘psycho’, ‘nutter’, ‘loony’ - is a form of bullying and fear of people's reactions is often the biggest obstacle to coming forward and asking for help.
What is a 'mental health problem'?
Mental health problems cover a whole range of symptoms: depression, anxiety, self-harm, phobias and schizophrenia are all titles that fall under this category. Everyone is at risk of experiencing a period of mental ill-health, in fact figures show that one in four people do so in the course of their lifetime.
Things that can help keep children and young people mentally well include:
- Being in good physical health, a balanced diet and regular exercise
- The freedom to play, indoors and outdoors
- Being part of a family that gets along well most of the time
- Going to a school that looks after the wellbeing of all its pupils
- Taking part in local activities for young people
Other factors are also important, including:
- Feeling loved, trusted, understood, valued and safe
- Being interested in life and having opportunities to enjoy themselves
- Being hopeful and optimistic
- Being able to learn and having opportunities to succeed
- Accepting who they are and recognising what they are good at
- Having a sense of belonging in their family, school and community
- Feeling they have control over their own life
- Having the strength to cope when something is wrong (resilience) and the ability to solve problems
How can you help?
As a trusted adult it is important to listen and give reassurance - it takes a lot of courage for young people experiencing mental ill-health to voice their concerns. It might just be they need someone to talk to or give them a hug. They may want advice to where they can get information. Others might need to be encouraged to visit a counsellor or visit their GP.
Children and young people’s negative feelings usually pass. However, it’s a good idea to get help if your child is distressed for a long time, their negative feelings are stopping them from getting on with their lives, their distress is disrupting family life or they are repeatedly behaving in ways you would not expect at their age.
Further help... Childline, tel: 0800 1111, is a 24-hour free national helpline for children and young people in danger and distress.