At a certain point in their lives, children’s and young people’s psychological wellbeing and mental health might be affected. A child/young person may be able to express their distress by presenting with low mood or anxiety. Some children may present with a neurodevelopmental condition (such as Autism or ADHD or Learning Disability) and others might develop a mental disorder (such as psychosis or bipolar disorder or an eating disorder). For some children, the only clue to the presence of mental health problems may be changes in behaviour such as poor sleep, decreased appetite or challenging behaviours. Recognising and understanding mental health problems can be very difficult and even harder for children / young people who for one reason or another are unable to demonstrate or communicate their feelings and emotions.
Challenging behaviour is usually a child’s way of trying to communicate a need. For example they may use behaviour to express frustration that they cannot communicate their feelings/needs verbally, or that they find it difficult to do something. They may be trying to express discomfort that they are in pain, or a need for attention, Challenging behaviour can also be a sign of distress in other areas of a child’s life. It should be noted however, not all challenging behaviour indicates mental health problems. Many young children naturally have tantrums and many teenagers may ignore or argue with their parents. However, behaviour becomes challenging when it is harmful to the child or other people and when it persists and is severe. For example this may include physical aggression, self-injury destructiveness or extreme withdrawal.
Without support, challenging behaviours and/or mental health difficulties can have serious effects on the child’s life and on family relationships, making it much harder for the child to access the community, socialise and get an education, and this may impact in their wellbeing later in life.
If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour or it is changing or increasing in severity, please talk to your child’s health visitor, nursery or school in the first instance. They should be able to work with you to offer advice about how to understand and manage your child’s behaviour. If the difficulties persist despite support from nursery/school, you could ask your child’s school or GP to make a referral to a service that can help you understand what your child might be going through and how best to support them.
Services that may offer support include:
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, please talk to the professionals involved with your child (school teachers and/or SENCO, social workers, GP, etc). If the difficulties persist, you could ask your child’s school, social worker or GP to make a referral to a service that can help you understand what your child might be going through and how best to support them.
Some schools offer counselling for children presenting with psychological distress in the school environment. Liaise with your child’s school to further explore this.
Some young people may experience difficulties related to the use of drugs and/or alcohol. If you are under 18 and want to talk about your drug and/or alcohol use you can contact the service by phone or email. Family members and professionals might be worried about the drug or alcohol use of a young person and can contact the service to discuss.