Mental health, how we think, feel and regulate our emotions, is something that we all have. Just like our physical health, mental health is something that can deteriorate at different points in our life and we may find ourselves needing extra support and help. Unfortunately children and young people aren’t exempt from such difficulties, which can be a real concern for many parents. One way you can help is to understand the signs young people show when they're struggling with their mental health.
Poor Mental Health vs Mental Illness
Before looking at these signs in more detail, it’s important to distinguish poor mental health from diagnosable mental health disorders. The latter refers to issues that cause delays to a child’s development of age-appropriate social skills, thinking patterns and regulation of emotion or behaviour. These are also disorders that impact a child’s ability to function over a long period of time. Speak to your GP if you feel this is more descriptive of your child’s struggles.
How long should I monitor them for?
Being able to spot the signs a child is struggling with their mental health can be really hard. Children’s emotions can be volatile and their behaviour can change in different circumstances. Lots of the signs I am about to mention can be common in children and young people. However if they persist for a few weeks continually, are causing your child distress and are having an impact on your child’s day-to-day life it may be that they would benefit from some more support. So when you’re reading through this list and reflecting on your own child, think about those three ideas: persistence, distress and impact.
Physical signs that my child needs counselling
The first group of signs that your child might need counselling are physical symptoms. It might be that your child’s eating habits have changed, for example they could begin excessively eating or excessively dieting. Perhaps they have become very controlled in their eating, or you have observed signs of binge eating or purging. You could have noticed your child is sleeping more than usual, they have expressed a struggle to get to sleep or they’re waking lots in the night. Any noticeable changes to sleeping habits which become persistent could be a sign that your child is struggling with something and may benefit from some support.
Emotional signs that my child needs counselling
Emotional or psychological changes in a child can be more difficult to notice, however they do show themselves in some of the following ways. Maybe your child could be experiencing a persistent mood or emotion for a number of weeks, such as sadness or worry. Perhaps they're down about their body image, seem more irritable than usual or express a lot of negativity in their thinking. Their self esteem may progressively get worse or they become overly critical of themselves. Teachers might report that your child is having difficulty concentrating or focussing on tasks at school, this may in turn see a decline in their academic performance. Or it may be that they seem to have lost interest in the hobbies and activities they used to love.
Behavioural signs that my child needs counselling
Sometimes one of the most obvious changes we notice in our children is their behaviour. Again, lots of these behaviours can be common in young people as they grow up but if you notice persistent changes and your child seems distressed, do reach out for support. Perhaps you have noticed they are more argumentative or aggressive. Maybe they have had more tantrums than usual or seem particularly unsettled and restless. Some children may begin to seek control through repeated behaviours and actions. It could be that you’ve noticed more destructive behaviour in your child that seems to be causing them harm. You might be particularly concerned if they have a history of self harm or begin to show signs of self harm.
Social signs that my child needs counselling
A final way you may notice a change in your child’s behaviour, is socially. When a young person is struggling with their mental health it can cause them to become withdrawn from social situations where they might need to interact with others. This may also cause them to avoid busy places with lots of people, especially people they don’t know. You might also notice a change in their relationships where they begin to find friendships more difficult or they withdraw from friends completely.
What can I do to help them?
Lots of these things can be common for children to experience and don’t always indicate something deeper is going on, but as you’ve read and reflected on your own child, if you feel any of these signs seem to be persistent, distressing and having an impact on their life it could be time to seek some additional support.
It’s important to begin a conversation with your child first to see how they feel. Talking is the first way to understand if there is something bothering them or not and to see what support they think might be most helpful for them. If these symptoms persist it may be that they would feel happy speaking to a GP about their mental health, or there might be someone at their school who they would like to reach out to. It could be that your child would find it beneficial talking to a counsellor about their struggles. If you're especially concerned because your child’s behaviour is unsafe, if they are hurting themselves or someone else do seek help and support. If their life is in immediate danger, call 999.
It may be that your child isn’t showing these signs now, but you're concerned they could in the future. Perhaps they have experienced a recent distressing and traumatic event or there’s been a recent loss or big change in their life. It’s really helpful and important to be aware as a parent and be ready to support them if and when they need you to.
If you think your child would benefit from counselling, why not book in with one of our counselling team.
Or get in touch with us and we'd be happy to talk it through.