It is Children’s Mental Health Week and undoubtedly, we have seen a rise in the number of young people affected by anxiety, low mood and self-esteem issues since the pandemic. With many families requiring greater support from primary care as well as secondary care services. And so, the question arises, who can parents and children connect with when help is needed?
As a general practitioner, I have greatly valued the contributions of three ‘hidden heroes’ and want to take this opportunity to share more about their work; supporting young people’s emotional wellbeing within the community (often out of the spotlight!).
Firstly, Mental Health Practitioners! Not all GP surgeries have MHPs within their teams, however those who do are fortunate. MHPs bring their skills in active listening and crisis recognition, to provide both children (from 5 years and above) and their parents, the space to share their struggles, as well as the much-needed support to navigate further resources (be it referrals to therapy, social care, or specialists when needed). Even when MHPs are solely consulting with adults, their impact on children’s wellbeing cannot be overlooked. As a child’s wellbeing is closely linked to parental wellbeing and resilience.
Secondly, social prescribers! Often, a child’s emotional health is also tied to their socioeconomic
circumstances. When children lack financial security, are living in poor housing conditions, or lack sufficient food, they are vulnerable to physical ill health, but also find it challenging to learn and play carefree (activities which are essential to their emotional development). Hence, as a Gp it has been invaluable to work alongside social prescribers, who support parents in trying to overcome some of the socioeconomic challenges impacting their children.
And finally, my third favourite group of hidden heroes, with whom families can connect with, are community youth workers! Now strictly speaking, youth workers and after school club leaders, are not a part of the primary care team. They can be found in youth centres, sports grounds, and parish halls (to name but a few locations). However, youth workers offer children the chance to learn new skills, gain new experiences, and most of all, the chance to get connected. To meet supportive role models and make new friends. Thereby helping children develop a sense of possibility and belonging. And as highlighted by Place2be, who have adopted the theme ‘Lets Connect’ for this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week, the opportunity for children to make meaningful and healthy connections is vital to their mental wellbeing. Hence, in primary care, when seeing children who are struggling emotionally, and are still waiting to be seen for psychological therapies, I often find it invaluable to sign post families to explore the after school or weekend clubs which interest them the most.
There are of course many more essential workers, who play an invisible but vital role in supporting the emotional wellbeing of children at the community level. But I hope that by making a start, and highlighting the above three (Mental Health Practitioners, Social Prescribers and Youth Workers) more parents ( & fellow clinicians!) can feel better equipped to know who else to connect to, when children in their care are requiring greater support!