According to the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of children and young people aged five to 16 are affected by a mental health problem.
Despite the knowledge and awareness of mental health being on the rise, alarmingly, 70% of young people who experience a mental health problem do not receive the appropriate support.1 The emotional well-being of children and young people is just as important as their physical health. The early years of adulthood are a crucial time as the mind and body are rapidly developing and children are constantly facing new challenges.
Children are extremely vulnerable to mental disorders. Unlike adults, who have the ability to identify, understand and seek help for a problem, a child may be confused and upset by what they are feeling.
Fortunately, there are now many organisations working to spread awareness and end the stigma of mental distress and provide support for young people.
1 in 10 children and young people are affected by a mental health problem.
While many children will grow up mentally healthy, the Mental Health Foundation report that the number of those experiencing problems has risen. Many factors contribute to how the mind develops and how well a child will be able to cope with the changes happening to their body.
Common mental health problems affecting children and young people include:
In the 2018/19 Childline review, it was revealed that the top three concerns for young people were mental and emotional health, family relationships, and suicidal thoughts or feelings. Over 12 months, there were over 250,281 counselling sessions provided for children and young people.
There are some risk factors that can make some children more likely to experience problems than others. While most things that happen in a young person’s life will not lead to mental health problems, certain traumatic events can trigger problems for children who are already considered vulnerable. Some of the risk factors include:
- having a long-term physical illness
- having a parent who has problems with alcohol or drugs
- having a parent who has had mental health problems
- experiencing the death of a loved one
- having parents who are separated
- being severely bullied or abused
- living in poverty
- experiencing discrimination
- living in care
- taking on adult responsibilities at a young age.
Common areas of mental distress
Anxiety and anxiety-related problems
Anxiety is incredibly common. It is thought that as many as one in six young people will experience an anxiety-related problem.3 Children and young people suffering from anxiety may experience it in three forms:
- Affecting one in 25 people in the UK, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause young people to feel extremely worried. Young children starting a new school may suffer separation anxiety.4
- Panic attacks are unpredictable attacks of extreme anxiety, usually lasting around 10 minutes. The sufferer may find it difficult to breathe and feel out of control. The feelings of panic will gradually start to ease but the person can be left quite shaken and uneasy.
- Those who live with a phobia tend to feel nervous about one thing in particular. While to some people it may not be dangerous or threatening, to the person with the phobia, it can be quite detrimental to everyday life. For example, agoraphobia is the fear of being in situations where escape may be difficult.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Children with ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate, have a lot of energy and say things without thinking. ADHD in children is thought to start at around 18 months old, however, symptoms often only become apparent between ages three and seven. ADHD is more common in boys than in girls, affecting one to two children in every 100. It is the most common behavioural disorder in children.5
According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists, the two most common eating problems are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Eating disorders commonly start during the teenage years, though they can occur at any time. It is believed that eating problems are seven to 10 times more common in girls than boys.
Binge eating disorder (sometimes described as compulsive eating), is when an individual feels they cannot stop themselves from eating, even if they want to. It is common for the sufferer to rely on food for emotional support or to mask difficult feelings.
There is no single cause of an eating disorder, but it is estimated that almost 1.6 million people in the UK are affected.6
Depression is a common mental disorder that affects nearly 80,000 children and young people. Many people think depression is only prevalent in adults, but in fact, 2% of children under 12 years old will experience depression.7
Most young people will occasionally feel upset or low, but some can feel sad, lonely, anxious or stressed for longer periods of time. It is when people feel this way for a long time that it starts to affect their daily life.
It can be difficult to understand why people self-harm, but it is more common than people think. The Mental Health Foundation report that 10% of young people self-harm. The stigma of teenage mental health needs to be removed so that young people can get the help they need. It's important to remember that it is not a cry for attention but a way of releasing feelings of being unable to cope.
While everyone has times when they feel down and can’t see a way out, young people can be particularly vulnerable to suicidal feelings. Thoughts of the future, school pressures, relationships and sexuality can sometimes become overwhelming.
Young people feeling this way may believe that nobody can help them or that they have no one to talk to. It is these feelings that can lead a person to believe that the only way out is to end their life.
According to a 2021 report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), females aged 24 and under have seen the largest increase in deaths by suicide since 1981.
Child abuse is any action that causes significant harm to a child. It can be physical, emotional or sexual but can also be a lack of love, care and attention. Neglect can be just as damaging to a child as physical abuse. The NSPCC estimate that half a million children in the UK are abused each year.
In 2021, it was estimated that one in 20 children had been sexually abused. Although it is positive that more children have the courage to speak up, many of these statistics are hidden from view and, sadly, only offer a glimpse. Often, the child is too young, scared or ashamed to tell anyone.
How can counselling help?
The stigma and judgements associated with teenage mental health can make it tough for children and young people to find the courage to seek help. While they may not be in the position to talk to a friend, family member or teacher, it is important to spread awareness of the help available.
Children and young people may benefit from professional support. There are various treatments that can help young people understand and cope with what they are going through, including talking and creative therapies.
Counselling provides young people with the opportunity to explore their feelings. Here they can open up about their problems without shame or discrimination. The counsellor is someone to listen and offer support to the child, who may otherwise feel alone.
Common forms of therapy often recommended include:
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- cognitive analytical therapy (CAT)
- arts therapies
- counselling and psychotherapy
- play therapy
- drama therapy
- 1 Mental Health Foundation: Children and Young People. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/c/children-and-young-people
- 2 Young Minds: Mental Health Statistics. http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics
- 3, 4 Young MindsL Anxiety.
- 5 Young Minds: ADHD.
- 6 Mind: Types of Eating Disorders.
- 7 Young Minds: Depression.
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