How to help your child with mental health issues

Gamuchirai Chinamasa Mental Health

Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades. Self-harm is a very common problem among young people. Some people find it helps them manage intense emotional pain if they harm themselves through cutting or burning, for example.

They may not wish to take their own life. The pain that comes from cutting yourself has been described by some as a release for what they are feeling.

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

Children who are consistently overactive (‘hyperactive’), behave impulsively and have difficulty paying attention may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many more boys than girls are affected, but the causes of ADHD aren’t fully understood. 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 and bulimia can have serious consequences for their physical health and development.

What help is available?

Parental help

If they have a warm, open relationship with their parents, children will usually feel able to tell them if they are troubled. One of the most important ways parents can help is to listen to them and take their feelings seriously. They may want a hug, they may want you to help them change something or they may want practical help.

Professional help

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. These professionals are able to refer a child for further help. It is also key for the above, especially school teachers who spend the majority of time with your child, to be able to pick up the signs and know what to do,  meaning it should be mandatory for teachers to have counselling diplomas or attend mental health workshops annually.

Talking it through

Assessments and treatments for children and young people with mental health problems put a lot of emphasis on talking and on understanding the problem in order to work out the best way to tackle it. For young children, this may be done through play if the child is very young, they maybe asked to show them what is happening at home or how they feel through drawing, acting or toys, usally done for suspected abuse victims.


Most research into medications for mental health problems has focused on adults, rather than children. Children and young people need to be assessed by a specialist before they are prescribed any drugs. There is a lot of evidence that talking therapies can be effective for children and young people, but drugs may also help in some cases where it has been a long struggle or silence.

Young people have a right to privacy if they do not want to talk to you about their conversations with professionals, but you should still respond sensitively if they seem to be upset. Your consent is usually needed for them to get medical care if they are under 16 depending on the country you are in.

Children’s minds are very delicate and should be handled with care and love. Sometimes it is not easy for them to articulate or narrate  what they are feeling or going through, if it is abuse they could be scared of the abuser or have been brainwashed. It is key to always make them feel like they can come to you for anything and to believe them, the minute you name call them or call them liars before doing your own investigation you have silenced someone that was willing to speak up about an injustice.

It is also key for teachers to know how to handle these children because for most, school could be their safe place. School and its environment should make them feel safe, a place where they can learn but also be themselves.

It is also key to monitor what children see and are exposed to on TV or social media. You need to know the areas in your childs life where they can easily get triggered be it wishing for their own room when they go over to a classmates house and see how lavish their life is or allowing them to be around irresposible family members or friends that can pose a bad infleunce.

You need to protect your children as much as possible from the evil in this world, it is your job as a parent or guardian.

Another trigger for children could be that they feel they have no belonging. This usually happens in single parent households were one of the parents abondons their responsibility as a parent and denies being a parent to the child. A lot of people don’t realize the emotional impact that this has on a child, feeling unloved or unwanted. It  was not their decision to be born or brought into this world. It is our duty as a community to safeguard these children and play the role whichever parent gave up

What a child experiences when they are younger that we may ignore, they will deal with when they are older and they may struggle to process it.

Then as it has been many years of trying to and failing because they were doing it alone. Just as much as adults need a mental health break or to relax or have a heart to heart, venting or chat, so do children. As a parent it is necessary to be very patient especially if you have more than one child and have to juggle many emotions and characters, each child is special and unique.

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