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Help a young person experiencing mental ill-health

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Support the wellbeing of a young person

Every generation tends to be different when it comes to facing up to certain challenges and coping with new phenomenons that are now part of our lives, like social media pressure or the pandemic.

On a basic level, these challenges are really the same struggles that have had a meaningful impact on many young people’s lives but just different versions adapted to an ever-changing world.

Bullying has evolved to cyberbullying and peer pressure, body shaming, and negative self-perception issues are the sort of things that may have visited your life as a teenager and now you have to find a way to guide your young person through this same emotional jungle.

The list of mental health issues that can affect your young person is a long one and each person is unique in the way that these pressure affect them and how they cope or fail to contend with these traumatic circumstances and pressures.

One thing that is certain is that a good number of the challenges that young people face can have a detrimental impact on their mental health.

As a parent/carer, you will want to understand what your young person is going through and be able to offer them guidance on how to cope with these problems without resorting to drugs and self-harming as a way of dealing with the pressure they are feeling at this emotionally-challenging chapter in their life.

Parents/carers need to know the telltale signs that their young person is struggling to cope or has resorted to drug abuse as a coping mechanism.

On this page are the key signs that you need to look out for and some tips and information on how to help your young person stay in positive control of their mental health.

What are the odds?

One in four 17 to 19-year-olds in England had a probable mental disorder in 2022 – up from one in six in 2021, according to an NHS Digital report. The survey results suggest a probable mental disorder among:

  • 18% of 7 to 16-year-olds – five in every classroom
  • nearly 33% of female 17 to 24-year-olds, compared with 13% of male
  • nearly 20% of male 7 to 16-year-olds, compared with 10% of female.

Your young person needs the sort of parental support that lets them know they are not facing their struggles alone and that you are there to support them through this difficult time. It is equally important that parents also have a support network they can call upon.

Help is out there

A fundamental point that all parents/carers should take on board is that mental illnesses can be treated with the right help and timely intervention.

A good starting point for you as a parent/carer is to have a conversation with your young person in a constructive way that is non-confrontational and is focused on offering them the love and support that they may well need more than ever.

It can be extremely difficult to talk about mental health, but if you approach the subject in the right way and in an appropriate setting or environment, it can help get the problem out in the air and you can discuss a way forward from there.

If you want some help on how to start that conversation with your teen and what to say, see our ‘How to talk about mental health‘ page which has some useful pointers from MentalHealth.gov, on what sort of questions and responses are most conducive to getting a positive response and formulating a plan of action.

You could also consider asking your GP for some initial help if you are unsure who to turn to.

Help for parents and carers

Thanks to Palmer Lake Recovery for this document.

Spotting the warning signs

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to be sure that your young person has a mental health problem and they may try to hide their problems from you.

There are definitely some clues that you can look out for and if you know some of the common nonverbal cues and physical signs that are not often associated with mental illness, you will be in a better place to offer the help that they clearly need at this point.

Here are some of those classic warning signs that parents need to be aware of –

  • You observe that your young person is feeling noticeably more anxious or worried
  • The frequency of tantrums or periods of irritability are more than you would expect, even allowing for the hormonal challenges your young person will face in their formative years
  • Your young person seems to be suffering from regular headaches or stomach pains without any identifiable explanation
  • Your young person seems unable to sit still or quietly for any length of time
  • They have trouble sleeping and seem to have frequent nightmares
  • You notice that they suddenly lose interest in things they have always enjoyed doing
  • They withdraw from their social group and seem to avoid spending time with friends
  • School/college grades and performance shows signs of decline
  • Your young person talks about their fears of weight gain and seems to diet or exercise excessively
  • They seem to suffer from very low energy levels, or alternatively, they have spells of intense and inexhaustible activity
  • Signs of self-harming such as cutting or burning their skin
  • Appear to be happy to engage in destructive or risky behavior
  • Smokes, drinks alcohol or uses drugs
  • Talks about having thoughts of suicide
  • Your young person believes that their mind is being controlled or is out of control, or they are hearing voices

It can be very difficult distinguishing whether some of your young person’s actions and behaviors are just part of their adolescent adjustment process or whether they are signs and symptoms of a problem that needs discussing with a health professional.

A good guide is often that if their symptoms last weeks or months and are having a noticeable impact on their daily life, this would be an opportune moment to seek some professional guidance.

When they need immediate help

There may be a situation when your young person needs immediate help and wants to be able to talk to someone urgently.

If you have discussed a potential mental health problem with your young person or want to take a proactive approach because you are concerned that your child might be vulnerable, it makes sense to set up a number of emergency contact numbers on their cell phone.

It would be a good idea to make sure that they have a phone number for a trusted friend or relative they know they can talk to if they are finding it difficult talking to you about their problems because you are their parent/carer.

Saving the non-emergency phone number for the local police department on their phone would also be a good idea as a backup plan.

Other useful contact numbers would be the Samaritans – call 116123, Childline – call 0800 1111 or Youngminds Crisis Messenger – text YM to 85258.

No parent wants their child to become one of the number of young people that suffer from a mental illness, but with the right help and support, if this situation becomes a reality for your family, a solution is out there.

You can help your young person overcome a mental health problem and it starts by knowing what to look out for and getting help as soon as possible.