By Helen Bishop

Consultant solicitor, Boardman, Hawkins & Osborne LLP

This week marks “Children’s Mental Health Week”, providing us with an opportunity to highlight the importance of children’s mental health.

Never before has the spotlight been so bright on children’s mental health, in an age where so many children and young adults are suffering from mental health issues, ranging from anxiety, behavioural issues, depression and Autism to less well known conditions such as attachment disorders. The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2017 published on the 22 November 2018 provided some alarming statistics, one of which was that one in eight (12.8%) of 5 -19 year olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed in 2017.

For too long mental health has not been given the priority it needs, and he stigma attached has been hard to dissolve. There is however clear and positive evidence that here in 2019 things are changing with greater public awareness helped by charities such as “The mental health foundation” and “Place to Be” to name only two, but we can easily argue that the change is not happening quickly enough. Our children and young people need to have access to the right resources and when they need them. Schools need to be able to recognise the early symptoms of mental health issues and should not have to be hesitant in acting due to the restrictions in school budgets or access to resources.

What can we do as parents, carers, grandparents and friends to be aware, raise awareness and know when to get help for our children? Some mental health issues are easier to spot than others – but we are told it is useful to look out for the following signs:

• Moods – All teenagers are labelled as being moody and irritable – but it is important to be aware if these moods become extreme and changeable and they become withdrawn.

• Social – Children suffering from mental health issues can be lonely, start to lose friends and may start to miss school.

• Food and exercise – Watch out for changes in eating, sleeping patterns and self harm and in older children signs of bullying, alcohol or drug use.

• Talking - Children who are suffering from a mental disorder may not wish to talk about it, but be there to listen when needed.

• Sport - It is important that we encourage our children to be safe and well both inside and out. Physical exercise and mental health have a proven link and can provide children with a feeling of self worth, motivation, feeling part of a team, and provide challenge as well as the benefits to their physical health

Separation and divorce can be a very difficult time for children and can trigger or exacerbate existing mental health issues. It is therefore very important that you talk with your children about the changes that are happening, and provide them with clear reassurance that it is not their fault. If possible when telling children about separation it is good for both parents to do it together in a safe and calm environment. Let the children talk and air their concerns and worries and let them know as soon as possible what the changes will be being put into place as this will help with the transition and provide reassurance.

If you are worried about your child’s mental health, speak to your GP and to their school and they will be able to help. There are many charities out there who are willing to help and are also more than happy to obtain all of our support.