Children’s and young people’s mental health is still in crisis despite public petitions from organisations such as YoungMinds to gain more government funding and acknowledgement of the need for much-improved service provision. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) are having to turn away almost a quarter of the children referred to them by concerned professionals and parents due to the lack of funding allocated to children’s mental health services.
There is also evidence to suggest that 50% of mental health problems manifest by the age of 14, with three-quarters of mental health issues being present by the age of 24. Sadly, adversities experienced in childhood can have profound and sometimes fatal outcomes throughout life, with significant increases in death caused by suicide in 10–19-year-olds reported between 2016 and 2017.
These figures alone are a stark reminder that we need to gain as many mental health resources for children and young people as possible and that we have a responsibility in the domain of psychology to help do so.
Issues that commonly impact on the mental well-being of children and young people include events such as poverty, bereavement, risk-taking behaviours, changes in the family dynamic, and traumatic experiences. However, everyday life such as forging and maintaining friendships, education and family relationships can also have an impact, and should not be underestimated as smaller problems. Unfortunately, we cannot prevent some of those experiences happening in life, but we can definitely assist the next generation of young individuals to cope better through them and hopefully to become more resilient as adults.
Assisting with the establishment of emotional intelligence in children and young people is imperative to their psychological, biological and sociological well-being as they grow through the facets of contemporary life. Developing emotional resilience can take the form of various outputs depending on the needs and wants of the child or young person.
Exercise, friendships, growth mindset, optimism, mindfulness and creativity can all play a role in aiding children in the development of emotional resilience and could have life-long benefits for mental health. Young people need to be able to understand that their mental well-being is paramount to their existence and should take precedence over potential stressors.
Self-help resources including mental health education should be made widely and openly available for children and young people to access at home, school, social media and in sports and youth clubs.
The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families has recently published new materials relating directly to young people’s mental health and young minds launched their crisis messenger for young people earlier in 2018.
Access to resources that may facilitate emotional resilience should also be as widely and openly available so that it can be accessed in the first instance of need. A greater network of mental health professionals is also required to deliver services that are desperately needed by so many young individuals. It is anticipated that the government’s proposed investment in mental health services will help to plug some of the current funding issues.
Kimberly Atherton is currently studying for a master’s degree in psychology on a one-year conversion course at the University of Sunderland, with her undergraduate degree being in community and public health.