Mental health problems affect 1 in 10 children and young people, with more than half (56%) saying that they worry ‘all the time’ about at least one thing to do with their school life, home life or themselves. As we mark Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week (4-10 February), Dr Jackie Musgrave, Programme Leader for Early Childhood and Primary Education at The Open University, discusses why mental health in children is an issue and actions that need to be taken.
The increase in the number of children who are being diagnosed with mental health illnesses is extremely worrying and one that demands attention from everybody. It is not one person’s, or one organisation’s responsibility to address – it is the responsibility of parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, family and the wider general public.
Children are our precious resource, the future of the world and they deserve to have their right to a good childhood upheld. What children need, want and crave is the love of adults who are around them, they can cope with setbacks and problems as long as they have their ‘rock’. It’s not necessarily about having lots of money, but it is about having lots of love and certain things in life that they can rely on.
Within society, we need to look at what we do in schools that is undermining children’s mental health, creating anxiety about testing and setting some children up to fail. The number of children with special educational needs (SEN) is increasing but funding is so low it’s at a critical point.
There is some good news about children’s wellbeing – as an academic who has worked with early years practitioners in my teaching capacity for many years, and continue to carry out research with them, I know how much they work with children and families to promote good wellbeing and to reduce the impact of adverse experiences which can increase the likelihood of poor mental health.
Many of the routines and activities that are in place in high quality day care settings help to support good mental health, for example, loving practitioners, play-based activities and opportunities to socialise. However, practitioners are under pressure, the government needs to address the pay and status of early years practitioners and provide the funding that they need to implement their policies. This will allow them to continue to deliver high quality care which in turn, can alleviate the pressure on parents who need to go to work, or help the parents who need additional support. We all need to work together and government need to think broadly about how to improve our children’s live
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Dr Jackie Musgrave, Programme Leader for Early Childhood and Primary Education at The Open University