Last week was Children’s Mental Health Awareness week. Did you know? No, I don’t think many of us did.

The general lack of awareness on children’s mental health is of immense concern. However, this truth is hardly surprising given the stigma which still remains attached to psychological difficulties. The sad reality is that this may be causing children to be denied the support they so need in early life to be able to mature and develop into healthy adults.

A children’s charity, Place2Be organised the awareness week, running from the 8th until the 15th February. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, launched the week with a video where she spoke of the importance of providing a safe place to talk for young children. The theme of the awareness week this year was building resilience and teaching children to cope with challenges.

The week has been designed to not only raise awareness about how mental health difficulties can affect children, but also the lack of support they currently receive. Primary school students are often unable to receive help from counsellors at school: only 1/3 of primary schools have an on-site counsellor, and of those most are only available one day a week. Secondary schools usually offer better support, however there still remains a large gap in the system for young adults suffering from mental health issues.

“Adult problems are often rooted in unresolved childhood traumas”

Schools are not the only culprit. Children’s Mental Health services consistently fall short of expectations, and, on occasion, even fail to provide basic care. CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) typically cannot offer an initial assessment for as long as three months, and the wait for treatment is even longer. Even organisations which are designed to bridge this gap, such as Stepping Stones, a volunteer led counselling service offer waiting lists of a similar length, rendering their service almost entirely futile.

This is, however, not for lack of trying. The services themselves and the unacknowledged staff are some of the few who recognise the gravity of these shortcomings. Services such as these offer essential support to vulnerable individuals, and their role in caring for the children of society should not be underestimated. Greater funding is urgently required to assist the provision of what often amounts to life-saving therapy.

“Even a few classes teaching mindfulness would equip children with some tools for taking better care of their overworked brains and could make a world of difference”

Irrefutably, the primary reason that children are neglected in this context is the lack of government funding for specialist services. HuffPost UK revealed that £87 million of promised funding for children and new mothers’ mental health remains unspent by the government.

The current failure to provide children and young adults with adequate support is a great disappointment. Schools and services not only fail to provide counselling and other methods of treatment, there is also a lack of education. It is vital that schools endeavour to teach children of all ages about the seriousness of mental health issues and the impact they can have. Even a few classes teaching mindfulness would equip children with some tools for taking better care of their overworked brains and could make a world of difference. Education in this area is essential to help support children with learning about their own minds as well as preparing them to cope with the potential difficulties of supporting others suffering with mental illness.

Children frequently deal with deeply troubling challenges early in life, such as bullying, loss of loved ones and parental separation. Adult problems are often rooted in unresolved childhood traumas, leading to the development of conditions such as anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating disorders. It has long been thought that children are not affected by such harms, and yet a survey taken by Place2Be and National Association of Head Teachers found that 1 in 5 children suffer from mental health issues before the age of 11. It is indisputable that vulnerable children deserve a space in which to heal, and preventative action to avoid them suffering such difficulties.

“Young people deserve the right guidance to grow and develop skills which prepare them for reality beyond the playground”

The mental health of children is essential to their general welfare and to their development as individuals. Mental resilience is also fundamental to studying habits and children who have healthy support systems often feel abler to learn effectively.

Place2Be’s ‘Awareness Week’ is a step in the right direction. Mental health is becoming more prevalent in society and hopefully this will lead to greater support for children. It is only now that we are beginning to realise the importance of caring for our minds as well as our bodies. We must recognise that illness of the mind is just as significant as diseases which are visible to the eye. Young people deserve the right guidance to grow and develop skills which prepare them for reality beyond the playground.

Beth Webb-Strong 

Image: Andreas Billman and Guian Bolisay 

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