While the emotional well-being of our youth is acknowledged as a key challenge in modern times, some new statistics are showing the worrying rate that these concerns are affecting wider society.

A new report from Deloitte¹ found that 46% of working parents are concerned about their child’s mental health. Even more alarming, 29% of parents cited their child’s mental health as their top worry. These statistics underscore the sheer scale of the challenge we face in supporting young people’s mental health.

When children struggle with issues like depression, anxiety, or trauma, the impact is clearly far-reaching. For example, Deloitte estimates that the cost to UK employers from working parents’ concerns about their children’s mental health amounts to an additional £8 billion. But obviously this toll extends well beyond the workplace – it can profoundly impact a child’s development, relationships, and ability to thrive.

What will happen if we don’t?

Beyond the home and school, we can understand that children’s mental health issues touch the broader community as well. Unaddressed problems can manifest in behavioural issues, self-harm, substance abuse, and even juvenile delinquency – problems that require involvement from social services, law enforcement, and the justice system. The financial and societal costs of these downstream effects are substantial and the case for prioritising children’s mental health is both clear and urgent.

So what needs to be done?

Experts agree that a multi-pronged approach is required, one that involves schools, healthcare providers, communities, and families working together. This could include increasing access to mental health resources and counselling services, implementing social-emotional learning programmes in schools, and creating a culture where mental health is openly discussed and supported – no small task! We firmly believe that ACT training is an important puzzle piece in this resolution and one that more people, from a broader remit than psychology and therapy alone, could benefit from. ACT has demonstrated effectiveness in alleviating mental health issues and improving well-being in young people (Binder et a., 2023)²

When we invest in children’s mental health, we are not only improving their immediate wellbeing, but also setting them up for long-term success. Healthy, happy children grow into thriving adults who can contribute to their communities and society as a whole.

What professionals need to know

By understanding the unique contexts that shape a child’s experience and nurturing an approach grounded in curiosity, compassion, and creativity, professionals can make a meaningful difference in the lives of difficult-to-reach adolescents, however this isn’t always what happens in reality.

The NSPCC document “Learning from case reviews briefing: Child mental health” highlighted learning from case reviews where children died or suffered serious harm due to issues related to their mental health, such as suicide, self-harm, neglect, abuse, exploitation, etc.

Key issues identified included:
  • Professionals not always listening to or directly engaging with children about their mental health concerns. Children faced barriers like lack of vocabulary, worry about worrying families, stigma, and not believing anyone would understand.
  • Professionals sometimes dismissed or overlooked children’s expressions of low mood, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts as “typical” teenage behaviour.
  • Mental health support was sometimes withdrawn if children missed appointments or seemed reluctant to engage, without efforts to understand and address the reasons.
  • The professional response was at times focused on the needs of the service rather than the child, such as delaying therapy due to concerns about emotional demands.
  • Transitions between children’s and adult mental health services were sometimes based on age rather than the child’s developmental needs.
  • Professionals did not always recognise the impact of traumatic events or life changes on a child’s mental health, or the influence of their online lives.

This report emphasises the importance of professionals taking a child-centred approach and considering the complex issues and ongoing concerns when working with children struggling with their mental health.

How ACT can help when supporting children and young people’s mental health

By investing in proactive, evidence-based solutions such as ACT, we can unlock immense potential and foster a brighter future for our younger generation. We are pleased to share two upcoming workshops that focus on key issues for young people ‘s mental health and how to support them effectively.

Self-harm and suicidality in young people with Dr Louise Hayes

This workshop is a 3-hour intermediate level skills workshop led by Dr Louise Hayes. It provides an overview of the latest evidence on self-harm and suicidality in young people (ages 14-24), and will equip practitioners with practical skills to engage effectively with young individuals experiencing these sensitive issues.

The workshop will cover:

  • Overview of the latest evidence on self-harm and suicidality in young people, and the relevant therapeutic approaches.
  • Practical skills to initiate sensitive conversations about self-harm and suicidal thoughts, using communication strategies that promote empathy and compassion.
  • Approaches to case conceptualisation and developing comprehensive support plans collaboratively with young people and their caregivers.
  • Importance of self-care and supervision for practitioners to maintain their own well-being when working with these challenging issues.
  • Ethical and clinical responsibilities within the service framework specific to different disciplines.
Stuff that’s Stuck with Dr Ben Sedley

The session is a 2-hour ACT clinical skills training led by Dr. Ben Sedley, an internationally renowned expert in ACT for young people. Designed for mental health, counsellors, and school professionals working with challenging adolescents who are “stuck” and difficult to engage. It is suitable for psychologists, counsellors, social workers, teachers, EMHPs, youth workers, and GPs.

Key topics covered include:

  • Use “Observe, Describe, Track” to enhance engagement with teens and adapting ACT metaphors that resonate with young people
  • Applying ACT principles to overcome obstacles and promote flow in sessions. Using curiosity, compassion, and creativity for a more impactful experience
  • Extending ACT ideas to work with the young person’s wider system like family and school, incorporating systemic factors like family, school, and online contexts

We must of course, also address the root causes of children’s mental health difficulties, such as social isolation, academic pressure, trauma, and the impacts of technology and social media. Through a holistic and preventative approach using key ACT principles we hope to equip children with the tools and support system they need to develop resilience and positive mental health during these challenging times.

We know that when children receive the mental health support and resources they need, the benefits are far-reaching. Improved emotional wellbeing allows young people to thrive academically, build stronger relationships, and develop into healthy, productive members of society. This not only enhances the lives of individual children, but strengthens families, schools, and communities as a whole.

Visit our knowledge hub to explore more about ACT for children and young people, or visit our resource hub to read about Louise’s DNA-V approach, and download free tools and tips to help you on your journey to improve children’s mental health.

References

¹Deloitte (2024) Mental health and employers: The case for employers to invest in supporting working parents and a mentally healthy workplace May 2024 Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/consultancy/deloitte-uk-mental-health-report-2024-final.pdf

²Binder, F., Mehl, R., Resch, F., Kaess, M., & Koenig, J. (2023). Interventions based on acceptance and commitment therapy for stress reduction in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychopathology, 1-17. Advance online publication.

³NSPCC (2023) Child mental health: learning from case reviews: Summary of risk factors and learning for improved practice for professionals working with children struggling with their mental health. Available at (https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/media/3241/learning-from-case-reviews-child-mental-health.pdf)

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