Mental health and wellbeing

What is Mental Health?

We all have mental health. Your mental health affects how you feel, think and act. It refers to your emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. Your mental health can change on a daily basis and over time, and can be affected by a range of factors.

It’s important to look after your mental health, as you would look after your physical health. Your state of wellbeing affects how you cope with stress, relate to others and make choices. It also plays a part in your relationships with your family, community, colleagues and friends.

Good mental health among children and young people

When children and young people have good levels of wellbeing it helps them to:
  • learn and explore the world

  • feel, express and manage positive and negative emotions

  • form and maintain good relationships with others

  • cope with, and manage, change, setbacks and uncertainty

  • develop and thrive.

When children and young people look after their mental health and develop their coping skills it can help them to boost their resilience, self-esteem and confidence. It can also help them learn to manage their emotions, feel calm, and engage positively with their education – which can, in turn, improve their academic attainment. We strongly believe at St Joseph’s that helping our children develop these skills is part of our role.

What affects children and young people’s mental health?

A child or young person’s mental health will be influenced by many things over time and, because they all have different personalities, they will react and cope with challenging situations in different ways.

Traumatic events can trigger mental health problems for children and young people who are already vulnerable.

Changes often act as triggers: moving home, changing school or the birth of a new sibling, for example. Some children who start school feel excited about making new friends and doing new activities, but there may also be some who feel anxious.

Teenagers often experience emotional turmoil as their minds and bodies develop.

An important part of growing up is working out and accepting who you are.

Some young people find it hard to make this transition to adulthood and may experiment with alcohol, drugs or other substances that can affect mental health.

Are some children and young people more likely to experience mental health problems?

Certain risk factors can make some children and young people more likely to experience mental health problems than others. However, experiencing them doesn’t mean a child will definitely – or even probably – go on to have mental health problems.

These factors include:

  • having a long-term physical illness

  • a parent who has had mental health problems, problems with alcohol or has been in trouble with the law

  • the death of someone close to them

  • parents who separate or divorce

  • experiencing severe bullying or physical or sexual abuse

  • poverty or homelessness

  • experiencing discrimination

  • caring for a relative, taking on adult responsibilities

  • having long-lasting difficulties at school.

What mental health problems commonly occur in children?

  • Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades. Teenagers are more likely to experience depression than young children.

  • Self-harm is a very common problem among young people. Some people who experience intense emotional pain may try to deal with it by hurting themselves.

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause young people to become extremely worried. Very young children or children starting or moving school may have separation anxiety.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can follow physical or sexual abuse, witnessing something extremely frightening or traumatising, being the victim of violence or severe bullying or surviving a disaster.

  • Children who are consistently overactive, impulsive and have difficulty paying attention may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

  • Eating disorders usually start in the teenage years and are more common in girls than boys. The number of young people who develop an eating disorder is small, but eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can have serious consequences for their physical health and development.

I’m a young person – what help is available?

If you’re a young person and you’re worried about your mental health, there is help available. You may want to try the following things.

  • Talk to someone about how you feel, such as a parent, friend or adult you trust. Our page on friendship has ideas on opening up to a friend.

  • Visit your GP. They can answer any questions you have about how you’re feeling, talk you through different support options, and refer you to other services who could give you more help.

  • Get in touch with services and organisations that help people with mental health problems. Visit our getting help page, or look at ‘organisations that can help’ below for support that is specifically for young people.

You could text the Young Minds Crisis Messenger if you need support. A trained volunteer will text with you to help you think through your feelings and signpost you to other support.

Mind has lots of information for young people about understanding your feelings, how to get help and support, what happens when you visit your GP, looking after yourself and more.

I’m worried about my child – what can I do?

One of the most important ways parents or guardians can help is by listening to their children and taking their feelings seriously. They may want a hug, they may want you to help them change something or they may want practical help.

Children and young people’s negative feelings usually pass. However, it’s a good idea to get help if your child is distressed for a long time, if their feelings are stopping them from getting on with their lives, if their distress is disrupting family life or if they are repeatedly behaving in ways you wouldn’t expect at their age.

If your child is having problems at school, a teacher, school nurse, school counsellor or educational psychologist may be able to help. Otherwise, go to your GP or speak to a health visitor. They can refer a child to further help if necessary. Different professionals often work together in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Most mental health support for children and young people is provided free by the NHS, your child’s school or your local council’s social services department.

Young Minds has a parents’ helpline you can call if you’re worried about a child up to the age of 25. They provide advice, emotional support and signposting to other services.

What treatment might young people be offered?

Treatment for children and young people often involves talking through the problem in order to work out the best way to tackle it. For young children, this may be done through play. They may be referred to a specialist such as a counsellor who is trained to help them explore their feelings and behaviour.

There is a lot of evidence that talking therapies can be effective for children and young people, but medication may also help in some cases. Children need to be assessed by a specialist before they are prescribed any medication.

The professionals supporting a child will keep information about them and their family confidential. Young people can seek help on their own, either by ringing a helpline or by approaching a professional directly, but will usually need a parent’s consent for medical care if they’re under 16.

Young people have a right to privacy if they don’t want to talk to their family about their conversations with professionals.

Organisations that can help

  • Barnardo’s protects and supports the UK’s most vulnerable children. They provide a range of services to help and support children, young people, parents and carers.

  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) runs a free, confidential helpline and webchat service offering help and advice to anyone feeling down or in need of support.

  • ChildLine is a free, confidential service where children can talk about any issue they’re going through. You can call their helpline or use their webchat to speak to a trained counsellor.

  • The Children’s Society supports children going through serious life challenges. They run services and campaigns to make children’s lives better.

Anxiety or Depression in Children

Signs of depression or anxiety in children

Knowing how to talk to your child about their mental health, or recognising the signs that they might be struggling, can be really hard. Signs of depression or anxiety in children can sometimes look like normal behaviour, particularly in teenagers who can keep their feelings to themselves.
It’s also natural for children or young people to feel stressed or anxious about things like exams or moving to a new school. But while these experiences can be very difficult, they’re different from longer term depression or anxiety, which affect how a child or young person feels every day.
It can help to think about what’s normal for your child and if you’ve noticed signs that they’ve been behaving differently recently.

Signs of depression

Signs of depression in children and teenagers can include:

  • persistent low-mood or lack of motivation

  • not enjoying things they used to like doing

  • becoming withdrawn and spending less time with friends and family

  • experiencing low self-esteem or feeling like they are ‘worthless’

  • feeling tearful or upset regularly

  • changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Helping a child with anxiety or depression

  • Realising that your child may be struggling with their mental health and experiencing anxiety or depression can be hard to accept. Sometimes parents can feel like it’s their fault or want to know why their child is struggling with a mental health problem. This is completely understandable, but the most important thing you can do is to reassure your child and not judge them for how they’re feeling.

Helping a child with anxiety or depression

Ways to help a child who’s struggling include:

  • letting them know you’re there for them and are on their side

  • try talking to them over text or on the phone if they don’t feel able to talk in person

  • being patient and staying calm and approachable, even if their behaviour upsets you

  • recognising that their feelings are valid and letting them know it’s okay for them to be honest about what it’s like for them to feel this way

  • thinking of healthy ways to cope you could do together, like yoga, breathing exercises or mindfulness

  • encouraging them to talk to their GP, someone at their school or Childline. Especially if they’re finding it hard to talk at home.

  • take care of yourself and get support if you need to. Try not to blame yourself for what’s happening and to stay hopeful about your child’s recovery.

If you’re worried a child is feeling suicidal

While not every child with depression or anxiety will feel suicidal, sometimes mental health problems can feel overwhelming for children and young people. If a young person talks about wanting to hurt or harm themselves, or expresses suicidal feelings, they should always be taken seriously.

Signs that a child or young person may be having suicidal feelings or thinking about suicide, include:

  • becoming more depressed or withdrawn, spending a lot of time by themselves

  • an increase in dangerous behaviours like taking drugs or drinking alcohol

  • becoming obsessed with ideas of suicide, death or dying, which could include internet searches

  • saying things like “I’d be better off dead”, “No one would miss me”, “I just wish I wasn’t here anymore”.