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Families under strain must keep talking

May 14, 2015 12:17

The mental health of children and young people is everyone's issue - parents, professionals and the youngsters themselves.

We know that 50 per cent of sufferers will have experienced mental health problems by the age of 14 - the figure is 75 per cent by the age of 18. The last survey took place in 2004 when it was estimated that in an average school class size of 30, three children would have a diagnosable mental disorder.

In their simplest form, these problems will be anxieties or "low" moods that are not unusual among adolescents. In these cases, support from someone they trust - a family member or someone from their religious or educational community - may be all that is needed to make a difference.

The most common diagnostic categories for this age group are depression, conduct disorder and ADHD. These conditions can be caused by external influences such as parents divorcing, or bullying by other children.

Removing or easing these factors may go some way to resolving the problem.

Mental health issues may also arise without a clear cause and may be due to the child having an inherent difficulty.

Research has shown that the stigma around mental illness is more of an issue for young people than it is for adults. It can have a profound effect on a young person's self-esteem and confidence and can prevent them from seeking help.

Language plays an important part too. References to mental and psychiatric disorders in relation to young people can make them feel marked out as different among their family and friends.

Using the term "mental disorder" may imply that the young person is entirely responsible for the condition, and that other factors do not play a part.

The impact a mental health diagnosis can have on family life varies - often there is a reluctance to acknowledge that a son or daughter is ill. In my experience, many parents remain in denial or want to "fix" the problem themselves.

Others can be more accepting emotionally and will typically seek the right kind of support.

Juggling work commitments in order to accompany children to medical appointments, or simply being with them at mealtimes can be a struggle too.

Marital relationships as well as those with other family members may be tested and siblings may find it hard to understand and be supportive of their brother or their sister.

It is vital for family members to keep talking - communication is everything.

May 14, 2015 12:17

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