Supporting your child with their mental health: starting positive conversations

03 November 2021
Paul Crawford
Paul Crawford is Professor of Health Humanities at the School of Health Sciences and Director of the Centre for Social Futures at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham. He is founder of the global field of health humanities and leads a large program of research in applying the arts and humanities to inform and transform healthcare, health and wellbeing. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health, Academy of Social Sciences and Royal Society of Arts. 
Young people are struggling with their mental health not least in the wake of the pandemic, with reports that mental health problems now affect 1 in 6 children and young people compared to 1 in 9 in 2017.*

A Young Minds survey also found that 67% of young people believed that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.

Our What’s Up With Everyone? mental health campaign is a collection of free resources in the form of animated short films and is run in partnership with Aardman (makers of classics such as Wallace & Gromit), young people, teams of researchers, and charitable and clinical bodies. The resources recognise the importance of increasing mental health literacy among young people, as the pandemic has brought increased rates of anxiety and depression. Parents and their children have been struggling during the pandemic, not least in the lockdowns.

Our aim is to start positive conversations and provide key information on how to respond to five challenges that might be being faced by your young person.

Preliminary findings show that young people viewing the films improve their knowledge of mental health, attitudes towards mental health, willingness to seek help and confidence in helping others. The films also reduce the stigma about mental health challenges.

One of our five challenges is loneliness and isolation. Here we break down how this might affect your child and what you can do to help them through their worries.

What are loneliness and isolation?

Loneliness and isolation often go together. Loneliness is the combination of feelings and thoughts that you are alone in the world, which is uncomfortable and distressing. It is not the same as being on your own, as that can feel good and welcome at times. Isolation can have a similar meaning — young people may talk about feeling isolated, perhaps due to living away from friends and family, or because they do not have access to the resources and opportunities that comfort and support them.

How does it affect my child?

Children and young people can experience loneliness and isolation even when they are loved and appreciated. They may feel they are not included in social life or social media. When young people face transitions into new environments such as a new education setting, the desire to fit in can bring increased anxiety about belonging and being wanted.

What can I do to help my child?

  • Acknowledge and anticipate that there will be big changes when your young person enters a new environment, but reassure them that you will be supporting them practically and, as often is the case, remotely
  • Explain that feelings can change quickly: if a young person has days when they feel on their own’ this will often pass and nicer feelings will replace bad feelings as they settle in
  • Share your own experiences to help normalise the feelings, and avoid disregarding statements about feeling lonely or isolated
  • Encourage your child to be curious and observant, helping them to focus outwards rather than inwards on themselves. What do they learn from these observations? Which other children and young people attract their interest?
  • Encourage your child to try new opportunities and activities – they could revisit former interests and new ones on offer in the transition
  • Let your child know that small steps and a steady, practical approach are fine. There is no big rush to connect and join in with others

If you consider that loneliness and isolation is causing your child or young person mental distress, then speak with or encourage them to speak with their GP or someone else they/​you trust and seek advice from trained professionals. Our What’s Up With Everyone website provides useful links to key organisations for further support.

Top tips for using our mental health resource with your child

  • Watch the films and share the follow-up information (which includes a seeking help’ section’) with your young person
  • Use the films as a starting point for a discussion about the challenges that the young people in them face – for example the theme of potential loneliness during the pandemic
  • When you have discussions with your child, reflect on how your own views and their views may differ
  • Both rank the five themes in order of importance and use this as a basis for a discussion. Your concerns, for example about the dangers of social media, may not be those of the young person. They may be more concerned about competitiveness, perfectionism, independence or loneliness
  • Consider how the themes feature in the wider media. How does the media represent these? Do the short animated films offer a different take on them?
  • Ask your young person which additional theme they would add to the screen roll. What do they identify as important to them but not included in this campaign. Which theme would you add?
  • Discuss which themes are of particular concern for your young person and explore strategies for dealing with these ahead of moving on to college, university or the workplace
  • Why not get creative and tell your own stories (or even make a film!) to one another about life’s challenges and how to deal with them? After all, the early days of Aardman started around co-founder Dave Sproxton’s family kitchen table!