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Changing our attitude to mental health could help 1 in 10 children

Changing our attitude to mental health could help 1 in 10 children

February 2, 2018 - By Sam Mann

To mark Children's Mental Health Week, guest writer Gemma Chatzipanagiotis explores what parents can do to tackle the widespread problem of children's mental illness.

Mental health has long been a secretive figure in our society. It resides in the shadows, often referred to in hushed tones. It is encircled by shame and mystery, nourished by stigma and misinterpretation.

 

It has always been with us. Ancient cultures thought mental illnesses were supernatural phenomena. Throughout history, it has caused isolation, confinement, shame, and provoked horrific procedures. 

In modern society, approximately 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year. Perhaps even more sobering, statistics show that 1 in 10 children have a diagnosable mental health problem. 

Children’s Mental Health Week

In recent years, there have been numerous campaigns to raise awareness of this topic.  In early February 2018, Place2b – the leading UK children’s mental health charity – launched Children’s Mental Health Week with the hastag #BeOurselves.

This campaign aims to educate children about mental health and the importance of talking about how they feel. By promoting positivity and celebrating our differences, the campaign highlights that this will not only benefit our own wellbeing but those around us.   

Imagine if we could treat a child’s anxiety with the same attention as an injured toe. Throbbing and painful to the wellbeing, it deserves just as much recognition.

Living with childhood anxiety

As a child, I can vividly remember being in certain situations and having a feeling of ‘slow motion’ wash over me. As an adult I now have a diagnosis: anxiety. My 9-year-old self did not know this. She waited for the feeling to pass. Sometimes it was a general worry; at other times it was a more determined black cloud. 

If I had confided in my mother, she would have quickly produced an umbrella and ushered me to safety. We are as close as mother and daughter can be, so why did I not? Perhaps in the late 1980s the discourse of mental wellbeing simply did not exist.

Inside our children’s minds

Nowadays, as a mother of two, I am passionate about children feeling able, comfortable, encouraged and supported to talk about their feelings, their fears and their worries. 

Our minds are fascinating things – they give everyone their own silent monologue. But this can be a double-edged sword when it comes to parenting. I am amazed daily by the things my children say. Sometimes I struggle to follow their train of thought and their understanding of things. How much easier it would be to know exactly what is going on in their heads.

Instead, I have to rehearse a few silent monologues myself, making sure I give them the best possible reply. As their first point of contact, I shape them the most. I want to mould them gently and carefully.

Maybe this is a conflict all parents face. Our childrens’ minds, and mental wellbeing are theirs, not ours. So, we can only help them if we work together to create a culture where emotions - good and bad, fears and worries - are not dismissed because they are intangible. 

Imagine if we could treat a child’s anxiety with the same attention as an injured toe. Throbbing and painful to the wellbeing, it deserves just as much recognition. Likewise, when a child has a positive thought about themselves or others, we should encourage them to speak it, so we can celebrate them.  

Creating a better world for mental illness

We should be creating this culture right now, so that anyone dealing with a mental illness can take their rightful place in society. 

In this new world, a parent is empowered to tell a schoolteacher, “My son will not be in today, he has anxiety”. 

In this world any child who’s being bullied online has another human being they can confide in comfortably. 

In this world, parents do not need to devise mind-reading tools to burgle their children’s minds. It’s a world where everyone feels safe – no matter what they’re thinking – to speak out. 

A world where we’ve agreed to #BeOurselves.

Gemma blogs at Mummy. Mrs. ME

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