Place2Be: An Exclusive Interview on Children’s Mental Health

Place2Be: An Exclusive Interview on Children’s Mental Health

Hi Jennie, thanks for speaking to us. Can you tell us a bit more about the great work that Place2Be does and what you have accomplished in the last few years?

Place2Be provides support for children’s emotional wellbeing and mental health in schools, and offers training for child counsellors, teachers and other professionals working with children. Our service is available to all children in schools to talk about anything that is troubling them, alongside one-to-one counselling for children with more serious needs, using the power of art and play to help children understand and find ways to cope with their problems. Our work helps children to become more settled, better able to manage their behaviour and engage in learning.

We were founded 22 years ago and are now working in over 280 schools, reaching a population of over 116,000 children each year. This is our third Children’s Mental Health Week and during that time we are delighted to have seen a big change in attitudes with increasing recognition of mental health being as important as our physical health.

What’s the importance of addressing mental health issues in children earlier in life?

Children who face big challenges in their young lives – such as bereavement, domestic violence and family breakdown – can all too easily go off the rails if they don’t get the right support at the right time. Three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem, and half of all adult mental health problems start before the age of 14.

Intervening early is vital in order to nip problems in the bud. Mental health problems that are not addressed in childhood can escalate into bigger issues later in life such as homelessness, addiction and unemployment. Place2Be’s counselling services can help stop the downward spiral, resulting in happier, healthier children with better prospects.

What misconceptions about mental health do you wish you could change?

We all have mental health in the same way that we all have physical health. What we want is for everyone to have good mental health. This means people having the skills to cope with the day-to-day stresses of life and deal with life’s problems in a way that enables them to engage in life positively and productively and become thriving adults of tomorrow.

Research shows that people are fortunately becoming more accepting and understanding of mental illness, with the recognition that virtually anyone can develop a mental health problem. We know however that many people are still very uncomfortable about talking about their mental health, especially in the workplace. Improving attitudes and reducing stigma are vital if we are going to improve people’s lives. We all need to do our bit to better understand and be sympathetic to mental health problems so that everyone gets the support and respect that they need – and ensure that the right support is available when and where people most need it.

What’s the most rewarding changes you’ve seen in attitudes towards mental health?

In recent years we have seen a remarkable shift in attitudes towards mental health, with recognition that we all have mental health and we need to look after it. We are working hard, alongside other mental health charities, to reduce stigma – encouraging us all to feel confident to speak openly about how we are feeling and emphasising that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

We are thrilled to have HRH The Duchess of Cambridge as our Royal Patron and to be part of the Heads Together campaign, which is spearheaded by The Duchess alongside The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry. The campaign aims to tackle stigma and encourage open conversations about mental health and ensure that people have the information, tools and confidence to support their friends and family who might be going through a tough time.

How is mental health seen among children – do you find there’s a stigma attached to it, as with some adults?

The great thing about Place2Be is that we work in schools and from a young age children are encouraged to talk openly about their emotions. We have a lunchtime service, Place2Talk, which on average a third of all the children in our schools choose to use. This helps to ensure that it becomes normal to talk about what is troubling you – that has to be a good thing for our future society!

What advice would you give to a parent who suspects their child might be having difficulties?

Keeping channels of communication open are vital so finding ways to spend time with your child to find out about what is worrying them is vital. It’s not always easy but try to find some time during the day to play or chat over the dinner table – even in the car! Even young children can understand about feelings and behaviour if you give them a chance and find the right way to open up.

If you’re worried about your child, it’s important that you talk to your GP or someone at your child’s school. You can also find a list of organisations that provide support and advice for parents, on our website (www.place2be.org.uk).

Do you have any advice for talking to children about mental health in general?

Let children know it is perfectly normal to feel upset or angry sometimes. As a parent, you can be an emotional role model for your children by showing them how to behave when you’re frustrated or upset – although we know this isn’t always easy! Make time for fun and “down time” with your children to help keep some balance. This is also a great opportunity to enjoy some time listening and playing with your child. Allow your child to learn from their own mistakes with support. Giving them age appropriate freedoms will help them learn their own limits, and show you trust them to make appropriate decisions. All this will help your child develop their confidence and build up belief in themselves.

Why have you chosen to focus on kindness for Children’s Mental Health Week this year? Why is it important and how can it help?

We’ve all known someone going through a tough time, and it can be hard to know what to do to help, especially where children are involved. It may sound simple but in these moments, small acts of kindness can make all the difference. We can all have a role to play in helping children learn the value of kindness. And this advice comes from children themselves. When asked what adults should do to help, over 80% of children said that ‘being kind’ and ‘listening’ were very important.

We know that being kind is actually good for us too – studies show that altruistic behaviors activates the brains reward system, meaning that helping others can make you happier and less stressed.

It’s also important that we remember to be kind to ourselves. As adults being kind to ourselves sets a good example to the children around us – whether it’s taking time to do something you enjoy or forgiving yourself when something goes wrong.

How else can we help support a child who we suspect is struggling with a life event or mental health?

Worrying or difficult behaviour might be short-lived. All children can go through stages of feeling anxious or angry and they can show this in lots of ways, for example, tantrums, crying, sleeping problems or falling out with friends or siblings. They might be adapting to a change in the family or in their school life, or just trying out new emotions, and things will generally calm down on their own or with family support. But if you are worried about it in any way or the behaviour continues, make sure you seek advice from your GP or other professional or go to Place2Be’s website for details.

Make sure your children know that you love them and are proud of them. Even when things are busy or stressful, a word or a hug can reassure them a huge amount. And remember to be kind to yourself too. It can be difficult when your child is struggling so make sure you give yourself time and attention and ask for help from friends and family when you need support.

Can you tell us a little about The Big Assembly and the benefits you hope it will bring?

As part of Children’s Mental Health Week, we are delighted that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be attending a very special Big Assembly on Monday 6th February. The Assembly will include:

  1. Role plays by children around the theme of kindness
  2. A choir performance
  3. A presentation of a ‘Kindness Cup’ to one pupil who has demonstrated exceptional kindness in their school community

After the event, all schools will be able to access downloadable videos of the Assembly so they can be used during school during assemblies or lessons at the most convenient time for the school.

What more needs to be done for children’s mental health in the future?

We believe that every school in the UK should have access to high quality mental health support for all their pupils and that a good education is about the whole child, and that includes nurturing their emotional resilience as well as their academic attainment. In fact the two are inextricably linked. So we would like all schools to be able to have the skills and resources they need to become ‘mentally healthy’ and ensure that our children learn to understand and manage their emotions and become resilient adults of the future.

You can find out more about Place2Be, Children’s Mental Health Week and The Big Assembly over on the Place2Be website.