With at least one in six children aged 5 to 16 years recently identified as having a mental disorder, it’s important to know how we can support a child if they become anxious or depressed. The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to disrupt a child’s life and turn into a long-term problem.

In the last year alone, children have faced a whole world of disruption – from their day-to-day routines (including home-schooling), isolation, trauma and hardship.

In fact, Mind found that three in four (75%) young people aged 13 to 24 with an existing mental health problem reported worse mental health during the first lockdown restrictions, with some self-harming as a coping mechanism.

Depression in children is more common than many people realise, but often goes unrecognised.

There are signs to look out for, and with children, it’s usually best to look out for what they do, rather than what they say.

Some key indicators include being sad or irritable over a long period of time, losing interest in the things they usually enjoy doing, such as going to their friends’ houses or participating in sports, and being tired a lot of the time.

Just like adults, children can also experience anxiety. This can manifest itself in many ways, such as becoming angry, finding it difficult to control their emotions, having trouble sleeping, and even having physical symptoms, such as a tummy ache.

While not every child will have the same symptoms (a comprehensive list can be found on the Mind website), if you notice behavioural changes that don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or keep returning, seek professional help, or create an opportunity for them to explore their feelings, so you can identify different ways to support them (see below).

Earlier this year, Place2Be, a mental health counselling organisation revealed that almost one in three (29%) parents admit they would feel embarrassed if their child wanted counselling, with many more feeling other parents would judge them.

However, it’s so important to be open, and non-judgemental. By normalising conversations around wellbeing and mental health; and encouraging and supporting others to seek help if they need it, you could save a life.

Here are some key ways to help support a child experiencing depression and anxiety:

How to support a child experiencing depression:

Always take the signs and symptoms very seriously and don’t dismiss your child’s behaviour. Remember to be patient, because if they’re depressed or anxious, they aren’t choosing how they feel.

Provide a safe space for them talk about how they’re feeling. By starting an activity they enjoy, taking time out to go for a walk, or chatting to them about how they’re feeling on the drive home from school, you may encourage them to open up in a less formal way than a face-to-face conversation across the dinner table, which can feel confrontational.

Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger than to relatives or friends. If they’re old enough, share resources with them and empower them to talk and seek help for themselves such as reaching out to YoungMind’s Crisis Messenger by texting YM to 85258, where a qualified counsellor will call them back to talk things through with you. Mind’s website also has lots of information how looking after your mental health and wellbeing.

Contact your GP to get further help but remind yourself that it may not be easy for your child to talk about with a doctor, or anyone, so encourage them to write down, or draw how they feel and take these notes with you.

Older children may also find it useful to highlight or print out any information they’ve found helps them explain how they’re feeling.

Suicidal thoughts or behaviours are an emergency and must be considered as such. If you feel that your child is at risk of harming themselves, ensure you stay with them and remove all means of harm. You may need to call 999 or take them to A&E so they can access the urgent mental health support needed.

How to support a child experiencing anxiety:

Don’t put pressure on them to do more than they feel comfortable with. It’s really important to be patient, listen to their wishes and take things at a pace that feels okay for them.

It’s understandable to want to help your child face their fears or find practical solutions, but it can be very distressing to feel they’re being forced into situations before they feel ready. This could even make their anxiety worse. Try to remember that being unable to control their worries is part of having anxiety, and they aren’t choosing how they feel.

If a child is having a panic attack, getting them outside, talking to them calmly or doing breathing exercises with them can help. Knowing that there is someone who knows what to do if they start to feel frightened or panicked could help them feel safer and calmer.

Find out as much as you can about anxiety. This will help you understand what they are going through.

Ask about their experience. You could ask them how anxiety affects their day-to-day life, and what makes it better or worse. Listening to how they experience things could help you to empathise with how they feel.

There is a wealth of information on, depression and anxiety that can be accessed through the Mind website or Infoline 0300 123 3393 (lines open Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm).

This Mental Health Awareness week Mind is here to fight for mental health. For support. For respect. For you. For more information on how to get involved visit www.mind.org.uk/jointhefight.

Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover

This year, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Metro.co.uk has invited eight well-known mental health advocates to take over our site.

With a brilliant team that includes Alex Beresford, Russell Kane, Frankie Bridge, Anton Ferdinand, Sam Thompson, Scarlett Moffatt, Katie Piper and Joe Tracini, each of our guest editors have worked closely with us to share their own stories, and also educate, support and engage with our readers.

If you need help or advice for any mental health matter, here are just some of the organisations that were vital in helping us put together our MHAW Takeover:

  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Rethink Mental Illness
  • Samaritans
  • Mind

To contact any of the charities mentioned in the Metro.co.uk MHAW Takeover click here

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