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Health and Wellbeing

Supporting a child or Young person with Mental Health

Young people standing in a circleMental health issues can affect children and young people from all walks of life, as well as adults. Everyone experiences difficult times and it is important that Children & Young people feel supported and encouraged to find help and safe ways to cope with their thoughts and feelings.

There are everyday things you can do to help someone suffering with their mental health. Routine is important, set activates for the morning, afternoon and evening. These don’t need to be extravagant just normal daily tasks.

Encourage and support the young person to look after themselves by eating well, exercising, sleeping, going out, doing things they enjoy and not self-medicating through alcohol, drugs, nicotine or caffeine.

Give assurance to the young person, they are not alone and lots of people can become ill with their mental health just as we can with our physical health.

What are the Key Signs and Symptoms?

  • Low mood/ mood fluctuation/ tearfulness
  • Anxiety/ agitation/ increased reassurance seeking
  •  Confused or muddled thinking, difficulties concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Self-doubt and loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of motivation and energy
  • Lack of patience or irritability
  • Withdrawn/ isolating self from friends or family
  • School refusal/ deterioration in academic performance
  • Struggling to complete usual daily tasks
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feeling hopeless, not “seeing the point” in anything
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling guilty, overwhelmed or responsible for things that are not solely their responsibility
  • Fear about the future
  • Self-harm or thoughts about ending their life
  • Becoming more withdrawn
  • Uncommunicative or difficulties making decisions
  • Mental health issues can also present in physical symptoms including headaches, Upset stomachs, change in appetite, change in sleep pattern and a feeling of tiredness all the time.

How do I approach a young person I have concerns about

It is important that you remain calm when talking to a child or young person that you are concerned about. You should ensure that the conversation will not be rushed, making sure that you have time to really listen and acknowledge how the young person is feeling. Let them know that you want to understand and help them.

Try not to minimise or play down how they are feeling, everyone deals with emotions and feelings differently. You may find that the young person does not want to talk and will play down how they are really feeling. You could suggest that they write down how they feel if this is easier for them to do or ask if they would prefer to talk to another trusted adult.

Help and encourage the young person to think through the problems and help them to find possible solutions. Always encourage them to look to the future and how differently things can be.

IF A YOUNG PERSON HAS TAKEN AN OVERDOSE THIS IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY AND YOU MUST SEEK URGENT MEDICAL ASSISTANCE. CALL 999 IN CASE OF EMERGENCY


Where can I get help & advice?

It can be distressing for a parent or carer to see a young person suffering with mental health issues but there is support available:

  1. GP/ School Nurse/ CAMHS
  2. Young Minds Parent Helpline: 0808 802 5544 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm)
  3. The Calm Zone
  4. Life Signs
  5. Harmless
  6. Papyrus
  7. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) Bucks CAMHS are specialist mental health services for children and young people provided by the NHS.

What is Self-harm and why do people do it?

Self-harm is when someone chooses to cause pain on them in some way. Problems can build up to a point where the feel that they are unable to cope. Young people often self-harm as a form of release and can begin to use it as a coping mechanism to deal with their worries. It is often used as a way to feel more in control, or as self-punishment. Sometimes a child or teenager may not know the reasons they self-harm. Others may be self harming due to mental health issues, feelings of not being good enough and low self esteem, being bullied and feeling alone, experiencing neglect or emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

The feelings or experiences that might be connected to self-harm can include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, gender identity, sexuality, abuse, school problems, bullying, social media pressure, family or friendship troubles and bereavement.

There are lots of different forms of self-harm, cutting the arms or the back of the legs is the most common form of self-harm, and others include scratching, burning, pinching, biting, and pulling out your hair (trichotilliomania).

Self-harm can also be overdosing, unprotected sex, abusing alcohol & drugs, not eating and making yourself sick.

What can I do?

As a parent or carer, you might suspect that your child is self-harming. There are signs to keep an eye open for including unexplained cuts, bruises, burn marks and bald patches. Young people that self-harm often keep themselves covered with long sleeves and trousers, they avoid things like swimming and changing around others. You may find bloody tissues and broken razors in the rubbish.

The young person may have become withdrawn and isolated, with a low mood and a general lack of interest. The young person may be engaging in risk taking behaviours such as alcohol and drug taking and unprotected sex.

It can be extremely difficult to know what to do or how to react if you find out your child is self-harming. There are things that you can do to really help:

  • Talk to your child but try not to get into a hostile confrontation, and avoid asking your child lots of questions all at once.
  • Keep an eye on your child but avoid ‘policing’ them because this can increase their risk of self-harming.
  • Remember that self-harming cannot always be seen.
  • Remember the self-harm is a coping mechanism. It is not the problem but a symptom of an underlying problem.
  • Keep open communication between you and your child and remember they may feel ashamed of their self-harm and find it very difficult to talk about.
  • Keep to normal firm boundaries and don’t be afraid of disciplining your child. The child or young person needs a sense of normality to help them feel secure and emotionally stable.
  • Seek professional help. Your child may need a risk assessment from a qualified mental health professional. Talk to your GP and explore whether your child can be referred to your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Where can I get help & advice?

It can be frightening for an adult when a child or young person self-harms, often parents and carers blame themselves, there is support and advice available:

  • CAMHS have a really good advice page that offers help and advice on self-harm or you can call them on 01865 901951.
  • Young Minds
  • NSPCC

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating Disorders are worries about weight and shape that effect your eating habits.

Being overweight can cause problems with self-confidence and health, however lots of young people who are of normal weight are unhappy with their body shape and wish to be thinner.

Young people often try to lose weight by dieting, believing that weight loss will make them feel happier.

Young people who diet are at risk of developing an eating disorder, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

In anorexia (anorexia nervosa) there is extreme weight loss, a preoccupation with weight and shape and fear of weight gain and eating. Losing weight rapidly can be as worrying as being underweight and is also treated very seriously.


In bulimia ( bulimia nervosa) there is a pattern of repeated binge eating (eating more than you would like to eat, feeling out of control and finding it difficult to stop) along with repeated compensatory behaviours such as vomiting or laxative abuse and an over concern about shape and weight.

Whilst eating disorders are serious, and potentially life threatening mental health conditions, it is important to remember that they are relatively rare. It is not uncommon for young people to become more body conscious, feel dissatisfied with their body image and weight, go on diets or become faddy eaters during their adolescent years. Not every young person who experiences this has or will develop an eating disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The main signs of an eating disorder are changes in eating, weight and shape, attitudes and behaviours. People with an eating disorder will make excuses for not eating, cut out certain food groups, obsessively check food labels and weigh amounts, they amy ask for healthy foods or decide to follow a certain diet, they may appear distressed or agitate around food and the preparation of food, they may replace food with chewing gum and water.

There can be other notable changes in behaviour including increased exercise, fidgeting, sleeping more, wearing baggy clothes, becoming withdrawn and secretive and an avoidance of mirrors and scales.

  • Physical symptoms and changes can include sudden weightloss, light headed, feeling cold, periods can become irregular or stop completely, vomiting and frequent bathroom trips.
  • Emotional symptoms or changes including mood swings, unable to concentrate and forgetful, anxious and easily stressed, wanting to be in control and worrying about what others think of them.

How do I support a young person who may have eating difficulties?

It can be extremely difficult to know what to do or how to react if you find out your child has an eating disorder. There are things that you can do to really help:

  1. Talk to your child but try not to get into a hostile confrontation, and avoid asking your child lots of questions all at once.
  2. Keep an eye on your child but avoid ‘policing’
  3. Keep to normal firm boundaries and don’t be afraid of disciplining your child. The child or young person needs a sense of normality to help them feel secure and emotionally stable.
  4. Seek professional help. Your child may need a risk assessment from a qualified mental health professional. Talk to your GP and explore whether your child can be referred to your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Reassure your child that you love them and that you will get through the difficulties together. Making sure that you validate their distress, not behaviours. As hard as it may be for you to understand, the emotional struggle is very real. 

When to seek immediate medical advice

If you notice sudden or rapid weight loss, fainting, complaints of chest pains, concerns over daily vomiting and if the young person has refused food or fluids for a longer period than 24 hours.

It is really important to remember that it’s not your fault. You have not caused the eating disorder. But Families are integral to the recovery process, as an eating disorder/ difficulty impacts upon the whole family.

Where can I get help & advice?

It can be frightening for an adult when a child or young person develops and eating disorder but there is support and advice available:

  1. CAMHS have a dedicated website for eating disorders. Here you will find lots of information and advice.
  2. B-eat – The Beat Adult Helpline is open to anyone over 18. Parents, teachers or any concerned adults should call the adult helpline.
    Helpline: 0808 801 0677
    Email: help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk
  3. ABC (Anorexia & Bulimia Care)  have great website or call: 03000 11 12 13

Substance misuse is one of the most common and yet preventable risks to a young person’s health and development. All drugs have the potential to cause harm some can be addictive and using drugs in combination can increase risk.

Smoking, drinking and trying drugs is one of the most common ways in which young people are likely to experiment, test boundaries and take risks.

I’m worried that my child may be taking drugs

Adolescence can be a very difficult time for young people; your child may be acting differently for a variety of reasons which doesn’t necessarily mean they are taking drugs. However, if you are worried that your child may be using drugs the best thing to do is open up an honest conversation with them, explaining the health risks and dangers that come with taking drugs.

As a parent or carer, you probably won’t be able to prevent your child from coming into contact with drugs but you can prepare them by ensuring that they are well informed, there are dedicated websites that can help you with this such as Talk to Frank.


What are the signs of drug taking?

Some signs that the young person may be using drugs can include mixing with a new peer group that do take drugs, being secretive and evasive about what they are doing and where they are going, having problems at school including poor performance and attendance. You may notice more physical signs such as red puffy eyes or a runny nose, poor hygiene and a loss of appetite. You may find drug paraphernalia in the house such as burnt foil and torn cigarette packets. Your child may be spending more money and money might be going missing.

Where can I get help & advice?

There are things you can do to help your child, but if you think your child may be using alcohol or drugs to help them cope with worries or mental health problems you can support them by speaking to your GP.

There are some organisations that can help:

Who are CAMHS?

Buckinghamshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is an NHS specialist service, provided by Oxfordshire Partnership NHS

Foundation Trust for young people aged 5-18 years and their families who are experiencing difficulties with their mental and emotional health.

Many young people experience difficulties with their mental health such as anxiety, low mood, trauma, eating difficulties, plus many others which can impact on all aspects of life such as education, home life, hobbies and interests, socialising and having fun.

What happens at CAMHS?

CAMHS is made up of doctors, nurses and other medical staff. These people are trained to help children, young people and their families who are experiencing mental health difficulties. CAMHS have a very informative website