How has coronavirus affected children’s mental health?

If you work at a school, or anywhere really, you’re probably familiar with the recent push on mental health awareness. You may have been told that you need to be mindful of others mental health, having been through something that was completely unknown to us in 2020. For me personally, working at a school, I can see how this affected some of our pupils. I’ve started to see the impact of 2020 on our students and I’m sure teachers across the country have too.

The main four aims when dealing with mental health are:

Preserve a life
Prevent further harm
Promote recovery
Provide comfort

What is mental health?

Mental health influences how we think and feel about ourselves and others and our interpretations of events. It affects the individual’s capacity to communicate and to form and sustain relationships. It also influences our ability to cope with change, transition and life events.

The World Health Organisation, who we’ve all become familiar with over 2020 defines it as,

‘The emotional and spiritual resilience which allows us to enjoy life and survive pain, disappointment and sadness’.

Taking the above into account, worryingly, mental ill health causes the second largest burden of disease in the UK, and roughly 13% of people aged 5-19 meet the clinical criteria for the mental health disorder. This is an unbelievably scary statistic when we think about our young people.

What are mental and emotional health issues?

A number of terms are often used to describe mental health issues. These include mental health problems, mental disorders, psychiatric problems as well as others. These terms do not give much information what is really wrong with the young person. Even worse, every day slang terms such as ‘psycho’, ‘mental’, ‘nutcase’ etc. really reinforce negative attitudes towards mental health issues. This creates stigma which often prevent young people from asking for help and stalls recovery.

An emotional or mental health issue may not be severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of an illness. However, issues can still cause disability to the young person experiencing them.

Young people who are mentally healthy are able to:

Develop psychologically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually
Initiate, make and maintain personal relationships with others as well as enjoying their own solitude
Emphasise with others
Have a moral compass and develop a sense of right and wrong
Resolve problems they may face and learn from them

Mental Health and Adolescent Development

Issues with a young person’s mental health can have a massive impact on adolescent development.

One of the main difficulties is trying to distinguish what are the symptoms of mental health issues and normal adolescent behaviours and moods. The changes which occur during this period in a young person’s life can create additional risk factors for developing mental health issues. Therefore, it is important to separate normal adolescent experience from mental health issues. This is because they are developing so rapidly meaning that changes in mental health issues can go under the radar unnoticed. Many of the symptoms are very similar to normal adolescent development.

For example, many young people become secretive as they develop their independence. This is very normal, however, secrecy itself may indicate that they may be self-harming, using drugs or alcohol, or may indicate paranoia which can be a symptom of psychosis. This of course, is the worst case scenario but as parents, guardians or teachers, we need to look out for this.
Another common example is withdrawal. This is a symptom of many mental health problems. If the young person is becoming withdrawn from their family but spending more time with their friends, this can be a normal part of growing up. If they are withdrawing from everyone, including their friends, this can be a worry.

Risk and Protective Factors During Adolescence

Many things occur and change during this key period of a young person’s life and this increases the risk of them developing mental health issues. Some examples of this:
Concerns about appearance. This can lead to anxiety, depression and can result in the young person excessively dieting or over exercising. This could result in an eating disorder.
Hormonal changes. This can make them prone to extreme emotion, anxiety and depression.
Drugs and alcohol experimenting. Pretty self-explanatory but may lead to substance misuse problems.

Increased risk taking behaviour. In an extreme example, driving while under the influence can lead to an accident. This could hurt themselves or the others they are with. Loss and guilt of this may trigger depression.

Limited knowledge of how to manage emotions. New and difficult experiences may lead to strong emotions for the first time. For example, loss of a friend or family member, or experiencing a relationship break up. Again, these could be a contributing factor to issues later on.

As well as those mentioned, many other risk factors exacerbate mental health issues.

Protective factors are characteristics associated with a lower likelihood of negative outcomes or that reduce a risk factor’s impact. As parents, some of these protective factors within their parenting style support good mental health. These include:
Breast feeding
Positive attention and affection from parents
Family harmony
Small family size
Positive relationships with extended family

There are many others too and the family play a massive role in the development of mental health in young people.

The main barrier when dealing with issues around mental health is the stigma attached to it. A deeper and better understanding of this can reduce prejudice and discrimination. Due to the current climate in the UK and resources thin in terms of Social Services and other outside agencies, there is a need for everyone at home and school practitioners to look at the help and support we can provide before professional help is received. This is because around 20% of young people with poor mental health wait more than 6 months to receive care from a specialist. This is a long time for a young person to be suffering and carrying around their worries and anxieties.

Mental health issues have always existed but have been highlighted a lot more of the past few years. The impact of the Pandemic in 2020 also means there will be a huge spike in the need for support.

At Booksmart Tutors, we have qualified Mental Health specialists who are available to support you with any concerns you may have and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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