As it comes to the end of Children’s Mental Health Week, first launched by Place2Be in 2015, I wanted to reflect on this year’s theme of “growing together”. These two words grow and together are two of the most useful words when it comes to our mental health because one is an action word and the other a connecting word.
Grow; because our mental health is never static – it is dynamic, it fluctuates. Together; because meaningful relationships are key to good emotional health. We know from research by the Campaign to End Loneliness and What Works Centre for Wellbeing that there are elevated levels of loneliness among young people and this can result in poorer mental well-being.
We all have universal needs when it comes to how we maintain our mental health and well-being, whatever age we are. However, there are some big differences, small nuances and significant unmet needs when it comes to supporting young people with their mental health. So, what are they? And how can we make sure we focus on them?
A key ingredient for our mental health is our sense of feeling heard. Given what young people have been through during the pandemic and the structures that have been set up which often ignore or dismiss them, it is unsurprising that they can feel powerless. Their ability to be able to express who they are is vital.
Having a sense of purpose and a reason for getting up in the morning is crucial for our sense of well-being, at any age, but especially so as a young person. They have their whole lives ahead of them and need to be supported with opportunities, skills and belief that they have a purpose and that they can thrive and grow. Feeling valued
Children and young people are often patronised and dismissed for not having “life experience”. Children and young people, in my experience, are some of the wisest, most honest advocates with real clarity of vision, empathy and a sense of kindness and community. They often don’t see differences; only what the common goal is. We need to change our attitude, to tell them and to show them that they are valued.
A sense of identity and opportunity
We know that childhoods and early experiences can have the biggest impact on mental health and create emotional and behavioural patterns that can last a lifetime. During the pandemic many young people had to miss out on important social milestones or had extra challenges alongside them. They may have missed out on opportunities and so felt a sense of loss or being lost. We need to help them regain their sense of identity, to support them to form one that is unique for them and to ensure that opportunity is still something they believe in.
If you as an adult feel hopeless reading the news, think about how a young person might feel. In a world that is still dealing with a pandemic, environmental crisis never seen before, poverty, conflict, division and inequality, and much more, we need to help young people and children to find hope again. They are looking to us to make wise decisions that will help to start to resolve these issues. We are looking to them to take the baton and carry them forward.
And that is why we need to support them with their mental and emotional health right now – with kindness, with time, with encouragement, with understanding, and with the right practical tools that will enable them to stay well mentally and emotionally.