Children's mental health issues have spent too long in the "don't ask, don't tell" space – something for the parents and teachers to deal with, and to be kept from bothering everyone else. Recently, however, with such high-profile people as the Duchess of Cambridge working to raise awareness of children's mental health issues, it's no longer something that can be swept under the carpet. Fortunately, things are changing and because it’s Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s a good time to share some thoughts with you.
CHANGING ATTITUDES FOR THE BETTER
Almost all mental health issues can be treated, managed or mitigated with the help of a professional and the sooner the right mental health worker gets involved with the child, the better. Fortunately, we've come a long way from the "lock them in an institution" days and today, there are numerous programmes for children with mental health conditions, developmental issues or behavioural and emotional disorders.
DIAGNOSING MENTAL HEALTH
Mental health experts are getting better at diagnosing mental health disorders. Nonetheless, diagnosing mental issues is a lengthy process, with access to services in the UK sometimes taking several months. If you want to know more about getting your child diagnosed for a particular mental condition, click here.
WHAT ARE THERAPY OPTIONS?
Therapeutic treatment has also developed significantly in the last few decades and, for example, cognitive therapy for children with emotional and behavioural issues can help reduce or even entirely eliminate the problem reasonably quickly and effectively. For children with more long-term needs, such as children with autism, therapy can serve as a palliative, helping both the child and the parents learn to understand each other's context and how to operate within it. All of this is available on the NHS – your GP or health visitor is your starting point.
SHOULD YOU MEDICATE?
Medicating can be very controversial. Many parents are concerned about simply suppressing the issue with chemicals, rather than treating the cause. There is also a very real concern that children may be over-medicated. However, in some cases, the right medication can be genuinely beneficial. Indeed, conditions like ADHD will require it. Advances in medicine also mean that children can be given significantly lower doses of improved treatments that are designed to supplement therapy more than suppress behaviour. It is also important to note here that certain mental health disorders have, as a direct cause, certain chemical, hormonal or other physical imbalances which are best treated with medical intervention.
WHAT CAN YOU DO AS PARENTS?
If you are a parent who suspects that your child is experiencing mental health issues, the most important thing is to note any unusual behaviour and discuss these with your GP. They will then refer you to a specialist and carry out tests to narrow down the problem.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Help is available and your first port of call is always your GP or health visitor. As a parent, there are a wide range of resources, charities and treatment methods open to your child. The important thing is to get help as soon as possible, and to reassure your child that any mental health issues are not a “weakness”. Normalising mental health is a large part of living a normal life, and creating a positive perception about mental health starts at home.
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