There has been an explosion in the mental health of children and adolescents in the past ten years.
All clinicians have seen it: whether it is GPs dealing with worried parents about their child misbehaving in school or A&E doctors dealing with ill-fated overdoses in teenagers.
I have lost count of the number of consultations I have had with mothers who desperately are seeking help for the mental wellbeing of their child in A&E or hospital.
The common denominator is that they all seem a bit incredulous and at a loss.
The presentations we see commonly are self-harm, low mood and struggling at school. The diagnoses we make commonly are depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
Recognising it is the first step: being withdrawn, talking less and eating erratically are all lesser detected signs of an altered mood.
Getting a referral seen by a specialist can take up to one to two years in some cases. The mental health services are understaffed and overwhelmed.
The Conservative government has overseen a decade of austerity with one legacy being that of a withdrawal of spending in the NHS: mental health has been the first to go.
Of course Covid and its catastrophic disruption on schooling played a major role too.
Now reportedly up to 75 per cent of children are not getting the mental health help they need.
So what can we do?
- There is a clear link between screen time and mental-health disorders. Having a discussion to limit it is a place to start.
- Can they be encouraged to be more active? Team sports or even individual activities are a great way to train the mind and add discipline. Think outside the box; what about weekend football teams? Climbing? Tough Mudder?
- Multiple studies have correlated spirituality as a protective factor against mental health. Personally, being a practising Muslim has kept me centred no matter what has come my way.
- One spiritual leader, Mirza Masroor Ahmad (head of the worldwide Ahmadi Muslim community based in Farnham) said it’s time to be friends with our children. I couldn’t agree more. The autocratic parent-child relationship model many of us had doesn’t seem viable in 2023.
If you are looking to talk to someone, I really recommend the Healthy Surrey website, Kooths, the NHS First Steps booklet and talking to your GP.
Dr Talha Sami has been working for ten years in the NHS. He was an author of the limited edition Take A Deep Breath: Diary of a Junior Doctor in the Covid Pandemic and Essential Guide to the RCA for the MRCGP. He is a frequent contributor to the BBC on medical affairs. He recently became a partner at Chiddingfold Surgery.