Children’s Mental Health Week – Charlotte Linham
February 3, 2020
In 2019, a number of shocking statistics about children’s mental health reached mainstream news. 1 in 8 children and young people are affected by mental health problems, with a 48% rise in rates of anxiety and depression since 2004. Almost 250,000 children aged 10-15 are unhappy with their lives – the highest number in a decade.
These statistics are important – they put numbers on something children, young people and their families face every day, and leave us with no choice but to take action.
However, they are not the most important thing. Our children and young people are not just numbers, quotes or headlines. They are people. As a society, we must make every effort to understand the issues that affect us – money, politics, climate change, discrimination – affect our children and young people too.
We must make more of an effort to understand the issues facing younger generations today: we cannot fix everything, but we can listen. We can listen when our children and young people tell us about social media, about school, about bullying and friends, about relationships. We can listen and value their opinions about politics, climate change and discrimination. We can listen and support them when they tell us about their worries, their fears, and their dreams.
There has been a lot of work to break down the stigma of mental health; but not necessarily for children. Those suffering can feel isolated, judged or misunderstood, and unsure where to go for support. Being honest about how we feel and encouraging children and young people to share their thoughts and feelings helps us all learn that emotions are okay. It helps us improve our emotional literacy, which has been linked to improved mental wellbeing.
To help us do our part, active listening is the best tool we have. We’re not always as good as we think at listening, so if you are struggling try these:
- Body language is important. Face the person you’re speaking to and make eye contact, and pay attention to their tone, gestures and body language.
- Try not to jump to solutions or interrupt. Sometimes people just want someone to listen to them, and don’t need someone to problem solve. Silence isn’t something to fear – if there’s a pause, don’t be tempted to fill it.
- Focus on your conversation. Try to shut out distractions: turn off your phone or the TV, maybe find a quieter room. Don’t focus on what you’re saying next or start to plan a response.
- Show you’re listening. Nodding or making small noises can help reassure the speak we’re hearing what they’re saying. You can also try summarising what they’ve told you.
- Ask questions. If you need to clarify something, wait for a pause and ask if you’ve understood correctly. Use open questions where it’s not just a yes or no answer to help them open up.
In Children’s Mental Health Week, have a conversation with a child or young person, and really, really listen. At Isle Listen, I am consistently in awe of how intelligent young people are, and how eloquently they talk about things that affect them. Allowing these kinds of conversations to happen every day, with every adult they meet, means we can learn from each other. In a decade, perhaps the statistics will be different – we just need to do our part.
If you are concerned, whether you’re a young person or an adult, don’t be afraid to seek support. If you’re not confident going to someone you know, have a look at these resources: