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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

‘It’s vital we support our children’s mental health’

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, Chief Social Worker Sean Holland and the Interim Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O’Neill have said that it’s vital that children and young people are supported with their mental health and wellbeing.

Speaking on the first day of Children’s Mental Health Week, Dr McBride said:

“At the end of this month it will be one year since we had our first confirmed case of Coronavirus in Northern Ireland. In this time our children and young people have had all aspects of their lives upended. Many children and young people will have felt worried and anxious, and sadly there will be some who will have experienced loss over the course of the last year.”

Dr McBride said: “Just like adults, children will react differently to what is going on around them and it’s important we help them express their feelings. Some children may react immediately, while others may show signs of difficulty later on. As parents and carers you may notice reactions such as worrying about their health or that of family and friends, fear, avoidance, problems sleeping or physical manifestations such as stomach ache.

“It’s vital that we look out for signs and be there to support and talk to our children about how they are feeling. There are many practical ways of helping and additional support is also available if you or your children need it.”

Chief Social Worker Sean Holland said:

“To support the fight against Covid-19 we have all been advised to stay at home. That means school life, socialising and hobbies have all been disrupted for our children and young people, and while we understand that this is absolutely necessary, it can come with its own challenges. Children and young people may feel more alone, worried or anxious during these uncertain times, but there are things we as parents and carers can do to help prevent these feelings from becoming more serious.

“Please also bear in mind that this situation is temporary and although it might not feel like it now, there are better days ahead.”

Prof. Siobhan O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Interim Mental Health Champion, outlined some of the practical things parents and carers can do to help:

“Nurturing the mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people is more important this year than ever, and there are things we can all do.

“The theme of this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week is ‘Express yourself’ and there are ways parents and guardians can encourage children to share their feelings. Make maintaining a good relationship with your child your top priority. If your child knows that you are there for them they will feel safe, and will be better placed to ask for help and support if they need it.

“Be curious, ask your child questions about their activities and interests. Devote small chunks of time through the day to focus solely on them. Even 15-30 minutes of your uninterrupted time will make them feel more connected to you.

“Accept and validate your children’s feelings, try to empathise with them by asking for more information on what this experience is like for them, and accept their feelings without judgement. It is only when they feel heard and understood, that together you can start to problem solve and make plans for different scenarios."

Concluding, the Interim Mental Health Champion said that to help your children you must also remember to look after your own mental health:

“Children and young people take their emotional cues from the important adults in their lives, so it is vital that you look after your mental health and wellbeing too. Use the ‘Take 5 steps to Wellbeing’ and remember to be kind to yourself.”

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