Mental health is never far from the news these days. And thanks to support from such famous faces as Kate Middleton, we’re waking up to the idea that children can also face mental health problems. While adults might be better equipped to notice the signs that something about their mental state has changed, young people have neither the vocabulary or agency to seek help. It’s an unfortunate fact that around one in 10 children between the ages of five and 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.
For parents of children with ADHD or other learning difficulties, the problem of spotting these other mental health problems becomes all the more difficult. Where mood swings are commonplace and children characteristically struggle to open up, how exactly are parents supposed to spot the signs? Understanding the warning signs is a great place to start, as you will soon be in-tune with your child’s emotions. Regular headaches or stomachaches may be a sign that your child is suffering from depression or anxiety. Unexplained weight loss can also be a sign of insecurity, body dysmorphia, anxiety, depression or eating disorders.
What is more worrying is that some parents may even ignore signs of mental illness out of fear they will be judged as bad parents. Although we all want the best for our children, any parent will be able to relate to this position. How are parents supposed to admit that their children are depressed without feeling that this reflects on them somehow. Depression is a very misunderstood mental health problem, and many people equate it with just being “sad”, but this couldn’t be further from the case.
As parents, it’s important to remember that mental health problems are very complex. There is no quick fix, but there is also no place for blame. Getting your children the help they need should be the only priority. As depression is 2.7 times more likely to be seen in adults with ADHD, getting children the help they need early on is a major priority. Learning to handle and cope with depression from a young age can prevent further health problems in adulthood.
While parents should be looking out for the signs, there are always ways to encourage children to talk about mental health. Often, young people are simply looking for advice rather than being told exactly what to do. With young teens, you can’t force the conversation or do anything that could betray their trust, such as going to a doctor behind their back or talking to their teachers. Openness, honesty and compassion are essential for helping young people to deal with their mental health problems.
A shocking 72% of children in care have some kind of behavioural or emotional problems. So, if your child is friends with a child in care, or if you’re a foster carer or volunteer, then you have the opportunity to reach out to a child and let them know you can offer a safe place to discuss their concerns. Lorimer Fostering recently created this infographic to help parents and carers to understand the warning signs of mental illness. What advice would you give to a parent struggling to handle their child’s mental health problems?