Parents need to understand the growing problem of mental health in their children

Why do young people prefer to approach friends, rather than their parents, with mental health-related issues?

Kieran Goodwin
Friday 08 July 2016 17:21
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From what I’ve learned about mental health in young people, and speaking with those affected, many parents don’t seem to quite understand what it’s all about. Some seem to think their children are looking for attention, while others dismiss their claims altogether. This is a big problem, and it needs to be addressed.

Parents need to understand the severity of mental health, and take it more seriously when their children approach them on such matters. It takes a lot of courage to speak to someone and ask for help.

Having recently carried out a small online poll - in which just over 250 people took part in - I asked respondents: If you were worried about your mental health, who would be the first person you would go to?

With four response options on offer, the final results showed a massive 44 per cent would turn to a friend for help, while just 26 per cent would turn to a parent. Doctor (26 per cent) and teacher (four per cent) took up the other two options.

YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. They campaign, research, and influence policy and practice.

Along with other charities, YoungMinds conducted research for Self-Harm Awareness Day earlier this year, asking respondents: “If you needed information or support regarding self-harm, where would you go for help?”

The final results showed 76 per cent of young people would turn to the Internet for self-help, while only 16 per cent said their parents. Friends came in second at 61 per cent, GP took third place - at 27 per cent - and, finally, at 11 per cent, the young respondents said they would speak with another family member.

When I suffered with mental health issues, including anxiety, I approached my form tutor at secondary school which led me to speak with the on-site counsellor. I always felt as if I would be severely judged if I spoke to my parents, and was mainly worried about their lack of understanding. I needed a third party to hear me out, without jumping down my throat, or dismissing my feelings. I needed help.

From the people who took part in my poll, almost half said they would turn to a friend for help. Surprising? Not to me. Speaking to a friend closer in age means they can sympathise more, approach the situation with a lighter heart, and really be there to listen.

Having spoken with a friend on her thoughts about parents’ attitudes to their children’s mental health, I was told: “Personally, at a younger age I would probably talk to a close friend first because I’d feel, to a degree, they could understand me better than my parents would. I think when we’re younger we actually forget our parents have been through problems of their own, and some people can feel a little embarrassed or scared of how they may react.

“Mental health is a topic under-looked in schools and homes, but it’s just as important as physical health and not something to not talk about, hide, or ignore in the slightest.”

Parents need to understand mental health isn’t just a ‘generation thing’. It’s a serious health condition which has been around since the beginning of time. The way mental health is being talked about recently, and the services which are now available, have most definitely changed, improved, and grown, which is a step in the right direction.

Nick Harrop, YoungMinds’ campaigns manager, has said: “We are constantly told by young people and their parents that stigma prevents them from talking about mental health. Often this leaves those who are struggling with nowhere to turn, and far too many people reach crisis point before receiving support.

“As well as encouraging young people to speak out, it’s vital we equip friends, families, teachers, and GPs with knowledge and skills to help them.

So why are parents finding it so hard to understand? Is it pride? Is it because they dont want to feel like they’ve ‘failed’ their children? Bad parenting? Let’s be honest: it’s never really anyone’s fault. Parents shouldn’t feel as if they have done something wrong. There may be an element, whereby, somehow, they’re involved with the way their child feels, but that’s okay. Parents need to talk it out, understand their children better, and just listen to them. Ultimately, the best thing you can do, as a parent, is listen and take your child seriously.

Standing with your child, supporting them through the difficult times, and researching the mental health condition will only aid the process of recovery. You can then talk about the subject in further depth with your child and meet with your GP to learn of more ways you can give support.

For any parent, having their child diagnosed with a mental health condition is hard, no matter what the severity. The facts are there; young people prefer to approach friends rather than their parents on topics relating to mental health. Communication is key in any relationship, whether that be family, marriage, or friendship.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article, please speak with someone, or visit YoungMinds, Mind, or NHS

Kieran Goodwin is CEO of the World Youth Organization

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