CHILDLINE ADVICE: How to spot the signs of mental illness in a child
On Saturday, the World Health Organisation marked ‘World Mental Health Day’, aiming to raise international awareness of mental health. And here at Childline, we answer calls from children who are struggling with mental health all year round.
That’s why, this week, I want to talk about what mental illness can look like for a child and how we can support them through it.
Last year, a third of all calls to Childline were to discuss worries about mental health and wellbeing. But following the uncertainty of this year, with lockdowns, school closures, and coronavirus, it’s more important than ever that we look out for children who might be feeling low.
One young person recently told Childline:
“I’m just so tired and hurt, and I hate being stuck with myself. I have started starving myself because I feel like I don’t deserve any food.”
There are many different types of mental health issues, but some have overlapping symptoms. They can involve changes in mood, difficulty with concentration, and repetitive behaviours. More information on these types can be found on the Childline website.
It’s also good to be aware of the challenges that children are facing now, as they adapt to the new normal. Parents might want to use this as an opportunity to open up conversations with their children about how they are coping. If they are struggling, try to let them know that it’s not their fault and that there is support for them.
One of the potential consequences of mental health issues is a lack of self-care, where children might stop eating, sleeping, or maintaining good hygiene. A good place to start is by helping them get a routine back into place for these, and encouraging them to care for themselves.
Children and young people can also use the Childline Calm Zone which has free resources, ranging from physical activities and free yoga tutorials to art or sensory ideas and online games. These can provide a distraction from difficult emotions and work as coping mechanisms.
It might help to book an appointment with their GP, who might want to refer them for further support.
They can also access free counselling from Childline online, or by calling 0800 1111.