The 1st February is the beginning of Children’s Mental health Week. Until I was a Teacher in a secondary school, I had no idea of the significance of this week and the importance of young people's mental health.
“Place2Be” launched the first ever Children’s Mental Health Week in 2015 to shine a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health. Now in its seventh year, we hope to encourage more people than ever to get involved and spread the word. This year's theme is “Express Yourself” which I personally think is such a good theme and message to promote to young people.
The world we live in is exciting, chaotic and scary all at the same time. As a homosexual 25-year-old Art Teacher I can safely say I have experienced every emotion and feeling under the sun when growing up. Was I fully equipped with how to deal with these emotions, probably not, but I learnt and I adapted in order to grow. Did I suffer? Of course. I grew up a very nervous child into a very emotionally closed teenager and then a very anxious young adult. I have gone through life feeling an enormous amount of pressure to do well and have been very hard on myself at times. I used coping mechanisms that were not healthy, such as drinking and eating, and it wasn’t until recently I found healthy ways to deal with what goes on in my head. I still had an extremely loving and caring support network with my friends and family, but this does not take away from the battles I have had in my mind.
Knowing all of this and knowing from my own experiences I am fully aware of some of the realities that young people and children will be facing growing up. Every single one of them is growing up trying to figure out who they are and what their identity is. They are trying to figure out how their identity sits in with society, their family’s expectations and everyone else around them. They are trying to figure out what they like, what they don’t like, what they are good at and what they enjoy. They are trying to figure out what they want to do in life and how they are going to achieve this. With all the new innovative opportunities that come, more pressure is added. They are trying to do well to please their families, to please themselves. They are trying to figure out their beliefs, their religion, their morals, their sexual preference and gender identity. They do all of this and more while trying to maintain the material expectations of their social lives as well as the academic expectations of their school lives and exams. In reality that doesn't even cover half of it. I mean don’t get me started on the effects of Covid-19 and the three national lockdowns we have had. Routines being ruined, social interaction stripped away from them and school life turned completely upside down. It is a lot, and we as adults feel it, so do they.
There is a lot of talk about mental health in adults and how in this day and age it is so important. I MASSIVELY agree. Talking as someone with my own experiences I know it is important. However, I do feel that children’s mental health is ignored. As if they don’t have these issues or worries because ‘they’re just kids’. As a societal topic, I find it is very much swept under the rug. Well, I would say that the mind is a very complex thing, and every human being has the potential to suffer with mental health problems, no matter what their age. Talking about children’s mental health does not take away from any other human’s experiences either. All problems and all feelings are valid. As someone who works in the education sector I can safely and most definitely say that children do face mental health challenges. I have witnessed and experienced things that make me extremely sad and things that make me question so much. Children, teenagers, as young as 11 or 12 going through the mental battles that they are at such a young age; it is devastating. The pressure they feel is enormous, the perception they have on the world is tinted and the way they see themselves is blinded by so many things. As I have said previously, every child is different and every story is different, but something has to be done, something has to change for this to not happen anymore.
I am no scientist; I am just a teacher. However, I am aware of some of the patterns that the brain shows in children and young people. For example, issues such as lack of self-esteem, emotional regulation and withdrawal are all related to brain development. There are many things that can affect how a child’s brain develops, such as neglect, trauma, injury etc. The main thing to consider here is that these tendencies are what normally manifest into mental health issues later down the line. It is not to say that these things will always lead to mental health problems, nonetheless, they are still connected. It is knowledge like this that can change the way we appreciate mental health in children and help those that might be suffering or suffer in the future.
We need to teach and enable our kids to express themselves, however that may look. We need to promote healthy conversations and conveying how we feel in the most articulate way possible. We need to teach kids that there is no shame in feeling a certain way and no shame in sharing that with others. Talking and dialogue are two powerful things and when used in the right way they can help children so much.
These things sound easy in theory, but they are difficult to put into practice. We live in a world where a tweet or a like is more important than a conversation with someone else. Not to say this is the case with every child, that would be stereotypical, but this is one of the biggest issues we face when trying to teach children how to communicate. They have a lot of confidence when talking online and we need to capture that confidence and help them utilise it in everyday life. If they talk more, for real talking, there would be so many benefits. That is why it is important to learn from a week like “Children’s mental health week”. As parents, teachers, carers, relatives, friends, it is our job to pass on the knowledge we have learnt in life. I may be speaking on behalf of my own generation here, but I feel we have grown up in a time that allows us to reflect on the very things that are stunting the emotional development of the children right now. Working in a school I see things I experienced myself and I think how differently I would react having grown up since then. We need to pass these tools on to them and it is important we do it.
If we are able to teach children about expressing themselves, conveying their feelings and doing this in a safe and comfortable way then we would not only be helping them now but helping their emotional development. We would be allowing them to flourish in a world where their mental health isn’t the biggest battle they face at age 13, 19 or 25 (or beyond). We would be doing this to help them now and throughout their lives. Learning to cope with certain situations, learning to regulate your own emotions and to feel your feelings are such useful skills that do not go away. It is like learning to ride a bike or ride a car. Yes, there will be challenges in life, and yes some people will find them extremely difficult, but if children grow up being equipped with how to understand their own minds better then they will have a better chance of winning the battles that go on in their head. Schools, homes, clubs and socials need to constantly reflect on this issue. Are we doing enough to help them? Are we teaching them to understand themselves and how they feel? Are we adapting to different things that are happening and different things we have learnt? It is not easy, but it is definitely worth it.
Hopefully you have enjoyed my outlook on this very important situation. Children’s mental health week is so vital and relevant. I am about to begin a week of lessons focused on this theme and I’m extremely excited and passionate to do so.
This is taken from the CMHW website so have a read:
"From 1-7 February 2021 schools, youth groups, organisations and individuals across the UK will take part in Children’s Mental Health Week. This year’s theme is Express Yourself.
Expressing yourself is about finding ways to share feelings, thoughts, or ideas, through creativity. This could be through art, music, writing and poetry, dance and drama, photography and film, and doing activities that make you feel good.
It’s important to remember that being able to express yourself is not about being the best at something or putting on a performance for others. It is about finding a way to show who you are, and how you see the world, that can help you feel good about yourself.
For Children's Mental Health Week 2021 we will be encouraging children (and adults) to explore the different ways we can express ourselves, and the creative ways that we can share our feelings, our thoughts and our ideas.
Around three children in every primary school class have a mental health problem, and many more struggle with challenges from bullying to bereavement. Whether you’re someone who works with children, a parent or carer, passionate about spreading the word, or keen to raise vital funds for Place2Be, you can help us reach as many people as possible".