Understanding Mental Health
September 04, 2021
What is mental health?
The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
For children and young people, this means that they are able to successfully reach their developmental and emotional milestones, learn necessary social skills and can function well at home, at school and in their communities.
What is good mental health?
Having good mental health is much more than simply not dealing with any mental health difficulties. It means that the child or young person is able to think, feel, react and behave in ways that they want and need to in their daily life. Despite having some bad days, which is quite normal for everyone, this does not affect their ability to function normally.
For example, Farah lives a well-balanced life where she is able to go to school, socialise with friends and enjoy her time at home with family members. On most days she feels quite happy and looks forward to her day. Sometimes she does feel sad, especially when she has small fallouts with friends. But this never lasts for long, and she is able to feel better shortly after.
What is poor mental health?
When a child or young person is struggling with their mental health it means that they are having some challenges to think, feel, react and/or behave in the ways that they want and need to. This can make it difficult for them to live their life to the fullest, or as they normally would.
For example, Hayden has been having some trouble concentrating at school. He often feels worried and fearful and is preoccupied with thinking about ways to avoid the things that make him feel fearful. He used to enjoy meeting up with friends after school but has now started to make excuses just to avoid going. Hayden has been struggling with this on most days than not.
Where to get treatment or support?
If your loved one or yourself is struggling with poor mental health, it is a good idea to find support as soon as you can. You might:
- Tell your parent/carer
- Talk to your GP
- Talk to your school counsellor
- Talk to a mental health professional
- Access available helplines (e.g. Childline, Samaritans, Shout)
- Access self-help resources (e.g. books, wellness apps)
Practice self-care (e.g. exercising, taking time off, social media breaks, spending time in nature)
Common myths about mental health
“Bad parenting causes mental illnesses”
Mental illness can develop due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors. For this reason, it is not correct to say that bad parenting causes mental illness. Parent behaviour can influence the development of mental illness, but this is not always the case for all children and young people with a mental illness.
“Children can’t have a mental illness like depression, those are adult problems”
Children can also suffer from depression, although not in the same way as adults. The signs of depression can be less obvious in children. It is important to understand what depression can look like in children so that you can watch out for signs that they might be struggling.
“Children will eventually grow out of it”
Mental illness can start early in childhood and can continue on to adulthood. It is not always the case that the child will grow out of it and it should never be assumed that every child will do so. Early treatment is important to ensure that children can recover successfully and will be less likely to continue to suffer in adulthood.
World Health Organization
You can find useful information and reports about mental health on the World Health Organization website. Click here to access the link.
You can find an exhaustive list of mental health charities and helplines available on the NHS website. Click here to access the link.
Myths about children’s mental health
To read our blog post on myths about children’s mental health, you can click here to access the link.