Throughout January, BIGKID Foundation has been focusing on mental health; working to open up the dialogue, and stressing the importance of maintaining good mental health. Mental health is just as important as physical health, so why is it that we treat someone with a physical illness so differently to someone suffering from Anorexia, anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? While we may sympathise with someone with a broken leg, why are people suffering from depression often instructed just to ‘cheer up’?
In recent years, greater attention has been drawn to mental illnesses, and the importance of managing our mental health. One in four adults suffer from mental illnesses, so this groundswell has been invaluable in opening up discussion, reducing stigma and helping sufferers to feel less alone.
It is natural, then, to assume that attention must also be paid to the mental health of children and young people. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in ten children and young people are affected by mental health problems, but 70% of those affected ‘do not receive appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age’. However, their mental health has the additional importance of being vital to their growth into healthy adults.
At BIGKID, we are all too aware of the devastating effect that knife crime and youth violence has on the mental health of young people in the capital. Young people that have witnessed, lost a friend to, or been a victim of knife crime have an increased risk of developing mental health issues including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. Moreover, young people with existing mental health issues are significantly more vulnerable to being groomed by a gang, and then likely to suffer exponentially when they experience violence. Cuts to services, exacerbated by the current mental health crisis, mean that these young people often don’t get the help that they need. This is why it is so important for grassroots work to be done to ensure young people get the help they need.
Today, we are dealing with a mental health crisis among young people. This is why it is so important that we are able to recognise mental health issues in young people, and work to give them the help that they need. To help, we have come up with some things that parents, carers, teachers, older siblings and everyone can do to ensure young people are able to live happy and healthy lives:
1. Talk about mental health
Be open and talk about mental health with young people. Let them know that talking about how they’re feeling is not a sign of weakness, and can be really helpful. Remind them they are not alone.
2. Promote good mental health
Set a good example by protecting your own mental health, whether by talking about your own experiences, exercising, eating healthily or practising self-care and mindfulness. Encourage young people to do the same.
3. Spot the signs
If you suspect that a young person might be suffering from a mental health issue, there are many great resources to help you identify the symptoms. Organisations including The Mental Health Foundation, Young Minds and Mind all have helpful resources.
4. Seek external help
Mental health issues, much like physical illnesses, need to be treated by a professional. Your local GP can help to recognise, diagnose and develop a treatment plan for anyone suffering from a mental health issue. They can also refer young people to mental health specialists.
5. Don’t blame yourself
If a young person is suffering from a mental health issue, any adults that care, love and protect them are not to blame. There are many risk factors for mental illnesses, so focus on mitigating these risks and helping them to manage their mental health.