Taking care of your child’s mental health: Guest blog by Chloe Walker

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(image: Power of Positivity)

Mental health is extremely important and has a significant impact on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. According to a recent survey by the NHS, one in eight 5 to 19 year olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed. As a parent, you play a crucial role in your child’s mental health. Fortunately, you can help improve your child’s mental health by creating a supportive family environment at home and learning the early warning signs of common mental health disorders, for example. With this in mind, here are some top ways to care for your child’s mental health. 

Develop a good bedtime routine 

Sleep plays a vital role in a child’s mental health. Research shows that there is a strong link between sleep problems and an increased risk of developing certain mental illnesses. In fact, one study found that four-year olds with sleep disorders have a much higher risk of developing symptoms of mental health conditions as six-year olds, when compared with children without sleep problems. Experts at Little Lucy Willow add – “Sleep keeps you calm, your mind alert, and recharges your body to enable you to get up and face each day.” For that reason, you must try and get your child into a good bedtime routine from a young age. Here are some top tips to help your child sleep better:

  • Create an ideal sleeping space by providing a comfortable bed, installing blackout curtains, and minimising any outdoor noise. 
  • Encourage your child not to use electronics like smartphones before bed. 
  • Get your child into a consistent routine where they go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Try to keep this the same on school days and weekends. 
  • Make sure that your child avoids any caffeine in the afternoon or evenings. 
  • Visit your GP if your child has been experiencing sleep problems for more than two weeks, or if the symptoms are interfering with their daily life. 

Exercise as a family 

Exercise plays an important role in a child’s overall health. Along with the physical benefits, regular exercise can greatly improve mental wellbeing. This is because physical activity releases endorphins in the brain which creates feelings of happiness and alleviates stress and anxiety. According to advice on the NHS website, children should get at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.

To give you an idea, examples of moderate intensity exercise include walking to school, riding a bicycle, and playground activities. Exercising as a family is an excellent way to encourage your child to be active. It also allows you to spend quality time together as a family and build closer bonds. Playing games in the garden, going for a walk in the park, or going on a bike ride, are all fun ways to exercise together as a family. You could also encourage your child to start playing a team sport they’re interested in, such as football, rugby, or hockey. 

Encourage open communication

You must create a welcoming family environment that is built around trust and understanding. This will help your child feel comfortable telling you about any issues surrounding their mental health. Encourage open communication in your family and make sure you check on your child if you notice any changes in their behaviour i.e. they become distant or their eating habits change.

Remember that children tell people how they are feeling in several ways, not always verbally. A sudden change in behaviour may signal that your child is struggling and needs support. Always listen to your child and empathise with their feelings. Let them know that it’s natural to feel down from time to time and offer support in any way you can.

If you’re still worried about your child’s mental health, then speak with your GP or contact a mental health specialist for further advice. 

Final thoughts 

Mental health illnesses in children are becoming increasingly common and can lead to several serious long-term effects. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for you to care for your child’s mental health. Encouraging healthy habits is a simple yet effective way to improve your child’s mental well-being. This should include exercising regularly, getting enough quality sleep, and following a nutritious diet. Along with this, you should also educate yourself on the symptoms of common mental health conditions in children and create a warm, trusting home environment that encourages open communication. Speak to a medical professional if you need to.

This guest blog was written by professional writer Chloe Walker.

 

How stressed are UK Students in 2019? Guest post by the Natwest Student Living Index

 

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(Image: Natwest Student Living Index)

The NatWest Student Living Index 2019 has launched recently,  delving into both stress and mental health for students at university.
https://personal.natwest.com/personal/life-moments/students-and-graduates/student-living-index.html

University-age students are more engaged with mental health and wellbeing than ever, and the study found that 1 in 4 students are very satisfied with their university’s mental health support.

Other noteworthy findings from the survey include:
• 71% of students say that their university offers affordable health and wellbeing programs (gym classes, yoga, meditation, mindfulness)
• 40% of students are concerned about their financial situation following university
• 45% of students find their university degree stressful
• 1 in 4 UK students find managing money stressful

The 2019 NatWest Student Living Index revealed that close to half of all UK students feel
extremely stressed by their degree studies. 1 in 4 students in the UK described managing their money as extremely stressful, while only 6% felt they received sufficient money management support from their university on average.

NatWest’s Student Living Index 2019 asked students from 35 top university cities about all aspects of student life, including the amount of wellbeing and mental health support on offer for students at university in 2019.

Is their degree the cause of the stress? On average, 45% of students in the UK feel extremely stressed by their degree  Cambridge (60%) and Durham (57%) students are the most stressed by their degree studies.
Have Universities supported students with mental health resources?

1 in 4 students are very satisfied with their university’s mental health resources, while 71% said that their university offers affordable health and wellbeing programs.
Interestingly, while students in Poole feel the most stressed by money management, the city also came last when students were asked about the availability of affordable well-being programs:

 53% of students in Poole said their university offers affordable well-being programs, this is the lowest ranked city and 18% below national average.

 Less than 1% of Students in Reading and Stirling feel supported by their university when managing their finances.

 94% of students in Aberystwyth feel their university offers affordable well-being programs

Are you a student in the UK? Read more about the findings here:  https://personal.natwest.com/personal/life-moments/students-and-graduates/student-living-index.html

Being a parent of a child taking GCSE exams and looking after wellbeing: Guest Post by David Welham

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(image: http://thesprout.co.uk)

Millions of parents would have experienced the stress and anxiety this summer in the UK with their children taking GCSE’s.

As a parent I was no different and wanted to share my experience. Exams are so different from when I took them. There are more, they take place over just a weeks and in my opinion changes to GCSE’s have been rushed without thinking about the effect on our children’s mental health. 

It seems that they were changed because employers were feeling that they were too easy.

As if my son didn’t have enough to occupy his mind, his future, should he do an apprenticeship, or should he go to college and not to mention the intense revision and preparation for exams.

I remember talking to other parents who also felt the same and expressed real concerns that their children would struggle to cope. They all said what happens if he or see is struggling I am not sure where to go or to talk to. We agreed that if I as a parent appear anxious how can I expect my child to cope.

Its fine just saying things will be OK and not to worry but I did worry, and I secretly just wanted the three weeks to pass as quickly as possible. 

My son decided that Xbox would be too much of a distraction and that it can be put away. I thought that this was mature and the right decision. He worked out a revision plan and we thought about his downtime, but I could still see anxiety and worry.

So I made a plan to make sure that he looked after his wellbeing. Checking in that he was alright and that he looked after his physical health and mental health. I was aware that it was important to take time out from the revision and as advised by school not to stop doing what he likes and change his routine. 

He went to the gym and out with his friends to maintain his relationships. We also planned things as a family as well in-between revision. This broke up the daily grind but there were still periods when I was concerned that he wouldn’t get through it.

I read articles in the news and spoke to school but talking to my son there were children who really struggled. He said that they were really not coping with their mental health. I worried when I heard about children crying, running out of the exam room and parents being called to take them home.

This can’t be right and is something that more research should be undertaken into the effects during exams as I can’t help thinking that we are setting them up for serious problems with their mental health further down the line.

I have suggestions on how to lessen the stress and anxiety during exam time.

Spread the exams over a longer period to give teenagers a bit of breathing space and allow them to take a break. If the exams were spread out there would be less intensity and time to do other things in their lives. I would also suggest there is less focus on the results and outcome and that children can just be children, without such a great amount of stress.

David Welham is a mental health writer from the UK