Good mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. Good mental health allows a person to flourish and fully enjoy life. Everyone experiences down times in life. But it’s the ability to cope with negative experiences, which varies greatly from one person to another, that largely determines whether people enjoy their lives.
Sadly, mental health problems affect around one in six children. For these children, the transition to adulthood can be very difficult. A recent study found that even those children with mental health symptoms that are mild enough never to be diagnosed are more likely to struggle with poor mental health later in life as adults.
So why is the mental health of our children suffering?
Factors affecting children’s mental health
There are many factors that can affect the mental health of young people. Some examples are as follows:
- Early childhood trauma such as an accident, an attack or natural disaster.
- Ongoing stress such as abuse at home or bullying.
- Dealing with long-term illness – their own or a sibling or parent, or a pandemic.
- Living in an unstable or unsafe environment.
- Erratic parenting, family break up or bereavement.
- Lack of self-esteem and confidence.
- Living in poverty.
- Lack of education – affects opportunities and confidence.
Common mental health issues in children include depression and anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia and eating disorders. Many of the symptoms are similar to those experienced by adults but children continually go through a process of change as they develop and symptoms can vary with age. This means the signs are not always easy to identify.
Exposure to traumatic experiences in childhood can have a negative impact on the development of the brain at a time when it’s most vulnerable.
Brain development and oxytocin
Oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone, is regulated in the brain and affects how we respond to stress. The early development of the oxytocin system has been shown to be affected by early trauma. Exposure to adversity in early life can increase anxiety and depression well into adulthood. It is often a combination of factors that contribute to a less developed oxytocin system. So exposure to a nurturing and loving homelife can promote normal development even under times of extreme stress.
Poor mental health in childhood leads to poor mental health in adulthood
Children and teenagers with a diagnosed mental health issue have a six times higher likelihood of having difficulties as adults, according to a study by JAMA Psychiatry. Children with undiagnosed mental health issues are 3 times more likely to have difficulties later in life. There are found to be higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders, suicide, drug and alcohol dependency, post-traumatic stress disorder, aggressive behaviour and eating disorders in adults who have experienced mental health issues in childhood.
How can childhood experiences impact later life in terms of eating disorders?
Eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other mental health condition, and unfortunately, are becoming increasingly common. It’s believed that approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder and recent research from the NHS information centre showed that up to 6.4% of adults displayed signs of an eating disorder (Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2007).
In cases where adults develop eating disorders, there is often a history of at least one childhood trauma, such as bullying, along with personality traits such as perfectionism. Also closely linked is a history of anxiety or having a close relative with an eating disorder, depression or addiction, to name a few. Most people don’t reach out for treatment until a year has passed so recognising all these facts provides a clear opportunity for early intervention, which may help prevent the development of an eating disorder in many people.
In any given year, a diagnosable mental health problem will affect one in four people. Bridge Support provides community support for adults with long-term mental health problems.
Our services are in place to aid wellbeing, recovery and encourage independence. We believe that everyone’s journey to recovery is different. Some clients have just received a diagnosis. While others have just left hospital and are working towards independence.
We understand the challenges our clients face and we can create a support package to meet their needs, whatever stage they are at with their recovery. Any pathway that we recommend is designed to be flexible. The pathways grow with our clients as their requirements change.
Bridge Support provides various services which include:
- Forensic Services – supporting ex-offenders to live independently.
- Flexible Support Services – flexible community mental health support.
- 24 Hour Service – intensive community support.
- Medium Support Services – a stepping stone after being in 24 Hour Support.
- Women Only Services – Women only mental health support.
- Housing Management – high-quality accommodation with support.
- Recovery College – support to live a full and fulfilling independent life.
Prevention is better than cure
In the UK, the total mental health funding (including learning disabilities and dementia) has increased from £14.31 billion in 2020/21. The cost is massive and is continuously rising.
All the evidence points to poor mental health in childhood being linked to poor mental health in adulthood. This highlights the need to focus on helping our children improve their mental health. By doing this we may be able to reduce the number of adults experiencing poor mental health later in life.
Our partner, Jenny Tomei, is passionate about educating and empowering those who are at risk of developing an eating disorder. Her site JenUp exists to support young people at the early stages of an eating disorder get their life back on track. We are very proud of the level of support we are able to provide here at Bridge, but it’s clear that more needs to be done. The earlier we intervene the better!
You can learn more about the services Bridge Support offers here.