Last Updated on 11th February 2022

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This week marks Children’s Mental Health Week across the UK.

After nearly two full years of a pandemic, the newest research indicates it has taken a heavy toll on children’s mental health. Between the social impacts, education and home life adjustments, and the stress and uncertainties of a pandemic, the fog is beginning to clear. We may now begin to see the real effects this has had on children and young people’s mental health in Northern Ireland. 

For Children’s Mental Health Week 2022, we’ve provided the latest statistics, signposting to further help and support and some top tips on how to talk to children and young people about mental health. 

Children and young people in Northern Ireland are 25% more likely to have anxiety and depression than their counterparts in other areas of the UK 

Source: BBC

Key facts

  • Research carried out in Northern Ireland reports that 41% of Primary 7 respondents and 52% of 16-year-olds feel their emotional health worsened during the pandemic.

  • A report by Northern Ireland Commissioners for Children and Young People (NICCY) shows significant concerns about the suitability of GPs and emergency departments to respond to children with mental health problems.  

  • The above report also found that the number of children in Northern Ireland waiting more than nine weeks for certain mental health referrals has increased from 167 to 451 between March and November 2021. 

  • Referrals to Child and Adolescent Services (CAMHS) through hospital emergency departments rose by 24% between 2019-20 and 2020-21. Source 

Talking to Children and Young People about Mental Health

Here are 3 things to consider when having a conversation with a child (or young person) regarding their mental health and wellbeing:

1. Active Listening

Active listening is more than just ‘hearing’. It is listening with full concentration and demonstrating that you are listening.

Maintaining eye-contact, nodding your head, smiling, and saying ‘yes’ or ‘mmm’ will show you are listening without judgement. Be mindful not to interrupt or hurry them. If they struggle to talk, it might help if you ask them to write it down.

2. Open Questions

Asking open questions allows for more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and encourages a flow of conversation.

You may suspect there may be more depth to an issue than your child is letting on. Open questions will help you explore any potential risk. Examples are:

  • How are you? How are you getting on with schoolwork? 
  • You don’t seem yourself lately. What’s on your mind?
  • I notice you’re not taking part in your usual hobbies at the moment. I’m wondering if there’s a reason for this? 

3. Reassurance

Reassurance is given through active listening and asking open questions.

You can give further reassurance by highlighting ways you can help and how you and others can support them.
Encourage them to think about who they feel comfortable talking to, like a Trusted Adult.

Top Tips

  • Find time to talk when you won’t have to rush.
  • Avoid asking ‘why’ as this often makes someone feel defensive. You can ask broad questions and gradually become more specific with the details.
  • Provide the child or young person with reassurance by explaining how you can help.
  • Don’t ask leading questions that prompt or encourage an answer you expect or want.
  • Remember that a young person may not be ready to talk, so explaining that there will be other opportunities to connect may help them feel at ease.
  • Use affirmative statements to end the conversation
  • Our Emotions Journal can help the child in your care understand their emotions and learn how to express their feelings.

Suggested Phrases

During difficult conversations with children, you might be faced with lots of ‘I don’t know’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’ answers. This can feel frustrating, but keep in mind it may be difficult for a child to open up. Some patience, reassurance, and honesty might help.

  • I was hoping we could have a chat to make sure everything’s going OK for you.
  • Can you help me understand how things are for you at school?
  • How long have you felt like this?
  • What you’re going through is difficult, but with the right support, things can change for you. I’m here to support you however I can.

“…in terms of public health, the most significant public health issue caused by the pandemic, aside from the physical health risk from the COVID-19 virus, has been on population emotional wellbeing and mental health, and the evidence is now clear that children and young people have been disproportionately impacted.”

Source: Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People.

Information Advice and Guidance

Support for Young People:

Support for Parents:

Support for Teachers:

NSPCC Child Protection Helpline

Mental Health Foundation (Mental Health Guide for Teachers)

If you have concerns about the immediate safety and wellbeing of a child contact the police using 999 (emergency number).

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