You Will Be Found

I was surprised to discover that Children’s Mental Health Week was only launched in 2015 and, as we are all well aware, for 1 of 6 of those years, children have been living in a pandemic. But I was struck more by another 1 in 6 statistic. Place2Be, the organisation behind Mental Health Week for kids, states that 1 in 6 children have a diagnosable mental health condition. That’s 5 children in every primary school class of 30 and 40 children in every secondary school year of 240.

As we approach a year of pandemic measures and lockdown, mental health in children has come to the fore of discussion. What we see now is the media discussing mental health everyday, without fail, on either TV, radio, in the press or online.

The message is clear. Talking about mental health is key and more specifically, talking about a problem should be admired as a strength, not a weakness. When something doesn’t feel quite right, however seemingly insignificant, children should be encouraged to speak up and say I don’t feel great. They need to know that if they call out for help, they are one step further forward to feeling a little less alone.

Accepting you are not infallible is healthier than bottling it up. If you give the impression you’ve got it all together when you haven’t, like a time bomb, when you least expect it, you will go bang.

A couple of years ago when I asked in a shop for a non fiction book about mental health for children, I was saddened to find only one, but ‘Looking After Your Mental Health’ by Alice James and Louie Stowell, in my opinion, gets it spot on. The science of the brain is addressed straight away. Children need to understand that our brains are complicated. It’s our body’s control centre and hormones and neurotransmitters cause all our feelings and emotions. When hormones go off in the body, how you feel depends on the different chemicals firing through your brain. The tiniest imbalance can throw your body and mind completely. It’s a shame some medical professionals out there don’t pick up this book and open their minds to a bit of simple science.

The biggest problem with mental health is that we can only experience the world through our own minds. Therefore no one should question what we vocalise, to explain what we feel. If you had a pain in your arm, would a doctor tell you that it’s actually your foot? If you went to an optician with a problem with your eyes, would they tell you it’s actually a problem with your hearing?

Inside Out was a children’s film with a mental health theme released about 5 years ago. There was some controversy at the time as to whether the subject was suitable for children. Perhaps the discussions it triggered about emotions and the way our mind works was harder to deal with for the adults, rather than the children watching the film.

What is ironically uplifting is that sadness rather than joy emerges as the hero of the film and that is because sadness as an emotion connects deeply with people, which is a critical component of happiness. Positive emotions such as joy are definitely part of the recipe for happiness, but not everything.

Research shows that people with positive and negative emotions, have better mental health. The more people strive for happiness, the greater the chance that they’ll set very high standards for themselves and feel disappointed—and less happy—when they’re not able to meet those standards.

At one time or another, many of us have probably wondered what purpose sadness served in our lives. I asked myself that question many times in my toughest hours but it’s quite simply made me who I am.

I think it’s very important for children to look back at history and learn about those who had mental health issues – Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Beethoven to name just a handful. Then we move towards the modern day and read about Adele and J.K. Rowling and their struggles with depression. Then we look at the much younger generation, Demi Lovato, Jesy Nelson, Zayn Malik, Billie Eilish and Kendall Jenner, all who seem on the surface to have everything, but what is everything? Is it popularity, fame, fast cars, big houses, hundreds of millions of pounds in the bank? But none of that has made them immune from experiencing mental health issues.

What we need to take from the list of people above is that below the superficial benefits of success, they are a group of creative, intelligent and talented individuals. That is what children should be aspiring to. Whatever’s going on in their minds, it has contributed to the brain they have and the talent they have shown and that is not a lesser group of people to want to be like.

As a teacher for a number of years, I spent many hours talking to all ages of pupils about their worries and what I learnt is one thing; children need a non judgmental ear and some self belief in being, as the Duchess of Cambridge said for Mental Health Week, the very best versions of ourselves. All you need in life is just one person to listen and for you to be able to say ‘you are my person’.

The quote from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy sums up what children should be taught to understand about mental health.

“Isn’t it odd. We can only see our outsides, but nearly everything happens on the inside”

Children must understand this simple fact – if you invest wisely on your insides, the rest will speak for itself.