Mental illness and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, of any age, of any background, at any time. Like with physical illnesses, people don’t choose to have a mental health problem. And they need the appropriate care to get better.
Mental illness and suicidal thoughts are common issues for young people.
It can be difficult to know if a child is suffering as they often keep it to themselves. But we’re here to help you spot the signs and know how to support them.
1 in 3 Childline counselling sessions were aboutin 2016/17
Explanation: 3 of the top 10 main concerns discussed in Childline counselling sessions related to mental health and wellbeing.
- mental or emotional health
- suicidal thoughts or feelings.
These 3 issues were the main focus of 101,454 counselling sessions - 35% of the 286,031 Childline counselling sessions in which children and young people talked about their own concerns in 2016/17.
See Indicator 7 in How safe are our children? 2017.
Thefor Childline counselling sessions in 2016/17 was
Explanation: Childline provided 295,202 counselling sessions to children and young people in 2016/17. In 286,031 of these counselling sessions they talked about their own concerns and in 9,171 they contacted us with concerns they had for another child or young person (third party concerns). The most common concern was mental/emotional health.
Depression and anxiety
Everyone feels down sometimes, but depression is more than this. People with depression feel sad for long stretches at a time – and this can be experienced by young people as well as adults.
This is similar with anxiety. Everyone feels nervous from time to time. But some people find it harder to control anxiety.
Children and young people can find it especially difficult to express their feelings and open up to others. If they’re suffering from depression they may feel like there is no hope and find it difficult to imagine ever being happy again. Or, if they’re highly anxious they may be even more worried about talking to someone about how they feel.
Some children may feel like there is no hope or might think about ending their life.
Whilst thinking about suicide is relatively common, very few young people will actually attempt to take their own lives. However even having suicidal thoughts clearly shows someone is unhappy and needs help and support.
It can be difficult to understand what causes suicidal feelings but they’re often triggered by upsetting experiences such as:
- living with mental illness
- experiencing abuse
- being bullied
- bereavement after losing a loved one
- being forced to marry
- having very low self-worth
All children are different but some of the common signs of mental health problems in children include:
- becoming withdrawn from friends and family
- persistent low mood and unhappiness
- tearfulness and irritability
- worries that stop them from carrying out day to day tasks
- sudden outbursts of anger directed at themselves or others
- loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
- problems eating or sleeping.
It's Time to demand change
Up to 90% of children who've been abused will develop mental health issues by the time they're 18.
The effect on others
If your child is struggling with their mental health or having suicidal thoughts, it's bound to have a big effect on you and the whole family.
Other children may also pick up that something's wrong, so make sure that you give them all the support they need.
Discovering your child is feeling suicidal can feel quite overwhelming.
So make sure that you also get all the support you need from friends and family and maybe professional counsellors.
How to support a child
It’s important a child or young person gets the right help for mental health problems, suicidal thoughts or self-harm.
There’s lots you can do to help improve a child’s wellbeing but sometimes you may need to ask professionals for help and support.
It’s a really difficult situation, but there are plenty of people who can help.
Your first step should be visiting the family doctor who can help in a few different ways. They can listen – if your child's willing to talk to them. If they have been self-harming the doctor will be able to treat injuries and give medical advice.
They could also refer your child for specialist help if they need it. This could be a therapist who will work with your child to discuss their thoughts and feelings and how this is affecting their behaviour.
Speak to the person in charge of child protection for the school or a teacher your child is particularly close to.
Teachers are becoming increasingly aware of child self-harm and mental illness. The school will almost certainly have experience of helping pupils and their families.
The school should be able to provide a named member of staff who your child can go to if they’re struggling with low mood or wanting to harm themselves. This might be a counsellor, a mentor or a nurse, for example.
Your child is at school for a large part of the day so having staff aware of the concerns and keeping an eye on them during this time can be reassuring.
Childline has trained counsellors who can help your child to talk about the emotions they may be feeling. It’s a safe space for children to think about ways to improve their situation. They often find it easier to open up to someone they don’t know.
Childline talk to under 18’s online or over the telephone on 0800 1111. Calls are free and do not show up on itemised phone bills.
Who else can help?
YoungMinds offer advice and support to adults, parents and professionals who are worried about the emotional welfare and behaviour of a child or young person.
YoungMinds also help children to improve their mental health and emotional wellbeing. So you could show their website to a young person if they’re struggling with mental health problems.
Talking about difficult topics
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