Mental health problems in children and young people:
A mobile friendly guide for parents
Looking after a child or young person who has emotional or mental health problems can be very hard. You may feel challenged, isolated, scared and deeply upset and wish you knew where to turn for help.
What is this guide about?
This mobile friendly version offers easy to read guidance on how best to support your child and where to find further advice and help with their mental health.
Be assured, things can improve for your child. Mental health, like physical health, is relevant to all of us, including children and young people. Problems are often temporary and, with support, can change for the better.
You are not alone
Many parents and carers have similar concerns and stresses, although they may not feel able to discuss them openly.
There is good support and guidance, through national and local organisations. At the bottom of this guide is a list of reliable organisations that offer information based on sound evidence. Do have a look to find out which sources of support might be best for you. The sooner you seek help, the better.
Every local area is different but the three places listed below are a good place to start. Talk to your GP, your GP will listen, begin to understand your child’s needs and suggest the most appropriate course of action or support for your child, including referral to mental health specialists, if necessary. So, make an appointment for your child and explain your concerns when you do so. You might also find it helpful to make a second appointment with the GP, for yourself, to discuss the “ripple effects” of your child’s difficulties on the rest of the family.
“[I spoke] about my hopelessness and sadness to a teacher, who called my Mum, and arranged for us to see my GP. A year later, I have just turned 16 and am in a completely different place to where I was a year ago."
Help at school
School is an important part of the picture when it comes to children’s mental health. It’s a good idea to stay in communication with the school about the issues your child is experiencing.
There may well be sources of help and support within the school, so do encourage your child to talk to a trusted teacher or member of support staff.
“The younger generation will hopefully grow up where mental health is not something that is ignored but something that should have everyone’s attention.”
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
Some local CAMHS services have a Single Point of Access (SPA) to help children, young people and their families get the help they need.
Some services need a referral from a GP, school or social care, but some accept direct contact from families. Look up your local CAMHS on the internet to find out what may be available.
What you can do to help your child
As a parent you can have a crucial role in your child’s recovery. The more you can understand about mental health and your child’s difficulties, the more confident you will be in supporting them. Getting professional help can be important but there is a great deal you can do as a parent too. Every case is individual, but these general tips might help you to help your child:
Encourage them to talk
When discussing their problem, don’t try to ‘fix’ it. For the most part, young people simply need to know you are there to support them.
Try ‘open-ended’ questions like, “How are things for you?” “What’s happening with you?” “What do you think or feel about…?” or “What’s on your mind?”, rather than questions that have “yes/no” answers.
Listen and be understanding
Never underestimate the importance of being an attentive, non-judgmental listener. Remember, you don’t need to know all the answers, listening without responding is often enough.
Listen calmly and try not to judge your child. Let them know you are happy to listen while they chat about anything and everything, whenever they want to.
Give your child reliable self-help information from trusted sources, based on sound evidence
Self-help links include:
They can read and use this at their own pace, allowing them some privacy, but at the same time you are showing you are there to help and they are not alone. Peer-to-peer support can be really useful.
Tell them, and show them, how much you care and how important they are in the family
Enjoy the time you spend together but understand that it might be a while before your child starts enjoying activities again. Try not to pressurise them and, if they need a little space, support them with that while not leaving them isolated.
It is not easy when stress levels are high, but a peaceful, loving home life can really help recovery. Keep family routines as normal as possible and do simple things together – maybe watching a film, or having a meal, going for a walk or playing a game. Just doing simple everyday things together (like grocery shopping or cooking) can provide a really helpful distraction. This can bring everyone in the family closer.
Understand the problems
As with physical health, there are many different ways of experiencing mental health issues. Try to read up on your child’s specific problems. This will help you understand their experiences and what helps recovery, building their confidence for the future.
Encourage social contact with friends and family
Encourage your child to go out (if only for short periods) and to keep in touch with friends.
Know that recovery will not happen overnight
As a parent or carer, you want to make your child feel better immediately but, like physical health problems, mental health problems can sometimes take time to improve and some, such as eating disorders, may be complex and seem illogical. There will often be ups and downs in recovery.
Don’t be afraid to seek further advice from mental health professionals
Many of them have a great deal of experience and are generally an excellent source of guidance and support close to where you live, though it is worth being aware that you may have to wait longer in some areas than others.
Don’t blame yourself
Parents or carers often feel guilty, thinking they have caused the problems, perhaps through genetics or the home life they have created. Usually, this is not the case.
Look after yourself
In order to support your child, you need to stay strong and well yourself. Often it helps to talk to someone, so don’t be scared about doing this, with friends, family or a parent helpline like the one provided by Young Minds find-help/for-parents/ 0800 802 5544