Nearly one in five children aged between five and 16 has had mental health problems, according to research by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). And the number of children receiving treatment has increased by 30% over the past four years, according to the charity Young Minds. But what are the main causes of mental health problems in children? And why are they becoming more common?
Overuse of technology
Mental health experts say overuse of technology is one cause. Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, recently spoke about a tsunami and mental health timebomb facing young people, caused by excessive use of social media and smartphones. She cited research showing that around one in four 14-year-olds were on social media for more than six hours per day –the recommended maximum amount of screen time—and similar numbers felt they were addicted to their devices. Facebook has previously said it wants users who visit its site to spend less time there and recently reported that it was meeting its target, with global active users spending 50 million fewer hours on its site each day.
Lack of sleep
Lack of sleep is so endemic now it’s probably more dangerous to your child’s overall well-being than too much screen time, says Dr. Michael Rich, director of Boston Children’s Hospital Center on Media and Child Health. A recent British study found that 60% of parents think their kids aren’t getting enough sleep, which is why experts recommend setting clear screen time rules and doing whatever you can to promote good sleep habits — especially on school nights. The average teen needs between eight and 10 hours of shuteye a night; if your kid routinely sleeps less than that, talk to his doctor.
The bullying environment that young people can be exposed to both at school and via technology contributes to children developing poor mental health. If you notice your child is being bullied, encourage them to tell an adult at school. Good schools have strong anti-bullying policies so they will take all complaints seriously. Tackling bullying early can help protect a child’s self-esteem and confidence as well as improve their mental health.
Although many people use them interchangeably, anxiety and stress are not the same things. Anxiety is an emotion, whereas stress is how we respond to that emotion. An athlete about to compete could be stressed out about it; she might feel like she’s under pressure, worried about disappointing herself or her coach if she fails to meet expectations. The athlete would still be anxious; she’d just be responding to those feelings with a physical response: fight-or-flight.
A doctor can diagnose depression by talking to you about your symptoms. A physical exam and blood tests may also be necessary. Often, it’s not clear what’s causing a person’s depression, but here are some things that might play a role: 1) your genes 2) early childhood experiences 3) stressful life events 4) brain chemistry 5) lifestyle choices
All experts agree that certain behaviors contribute to or cause certain mental illnesses — e.g., being depressed because of an unpleasant work environment; being anxious because you’re going through a bad divorce or having other troubles at home; having panic attacks because something is seriously wrong with your heart.
Children and young people who have eating disorders may present with a variety of signs, including talking about feeling fat, even though they are underweight; having mood swings or emotional difficulties; having an irregular menstrual cycle. They may also give away things that could be used for exercise, or their parents may tell you they take long showers. If your child shows these signs, you must contact your GP straight away.
Social media, cyberbullying and less time to spend with families because of busy lifestyles all contribute to today’s youth suffering from anxiety and depression. A growing number of schoolchildren experience mental health issues that affect their education at home and school. School principals, teachers, and parents are concerned about how to help pupils who say they can’t cope. They also worry about a lack of services for those who need more than just extra support at school. Mental health problems usually begin around puberty but can develop at any age and often go undiagnosed because many people don’t realize there is a problem or don’t talk about it.
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