This means that half of those who experience a diagnosable mental illness begin to encounter symptoms before they have even chosen their GCSE’s. Campaigns like ‘Children’s Mental Health Week’ provide ever more emphasis that education and awareness surrounding children’s mental health, mental illness and emotional wellbeing is critical for young people.
There are many factors which are thought to negatively influence youth mental health. One thought is that young people’s fight or flight synaptic reflex is excessively and unnecessarily triggered by exposure to emotionally stressful stimuli. Namely, but not exclusively, through social media. This reflex whilst causing emotional anxiety also provokes physical responses like increased alertness and a quickened heartbeat. Excessive scrolling on social media, as well as the nature of communication via social media, leaves young people vulnerable to feeling inadequate and rejected anytime they open an application. Other factors which are thought to increase rates of poor mental health include, a family history of mental illness, poor academic prospects and poverty. That being said, any young person can experience a mental illness regardless of their background.
Common mental health problems amongst young people include anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm. Early intervention is fundamental in decreasing the negative impact a mental illness can have on a young person. Subsequently, an awareness of the early warning signs of youth mental ill-health is vital. These include isolation, frequent complaints of physical pain and a marked change in sleeping and/or eating habits. In addition, a drop in school performance, sexual acting-out and repeated alcohol/drug use can also be indicators of mental ill-health.
What can be done to prevent youth mental-ill health and support those currently experiencing mental illnesses? An ongoing lack of funding for public mental health services means that young people can often find themselves waiting months for professional support. The current mental health service crisis means that educational intervention is increasingly significant in promoting positive youth mental health. Teaching children to healthily process their emotions by employing various techniques has an incredibly positive impact on children’s mental health. These techniques vary from creative outlets like writing, sport and self-care, to most importantly, encouraging young people to talk and share their feelings with people they trust.
Altruist Enterprises provide highly effective* Mental Health Awareness workshops for young people in primary and secondary schools to support pupil’s understanding of mental health and where to seek help. We also run Youth Mental Health First Aid and Half-Day Youth Mental Health First Aid courses.
*Dr Paul Patterson, Public Health Lead, Forward Thinking Birmingham