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‘Children’s mental health care must be a priority’

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As I’m sure none of you have failed to notice, we are in the midst of turbulent economic times. People are losing their jobs and their homes, and there is an uncertainty about the future and how we will get ourselves out of this mess.

There is a lot of stress and anxiety in society, which will affect us as nurses. An important part of being a mental health nurse is empowering those we work with to find ways of coping with the pressures life throws at us all.

With adults, this is a challenge but at least adults are often able to articulate their problems. With children, it’s a whole different ball game. Those of you who do this work or who are parents will know that getting to the root of emotional struggles in children is a fine art.

Children will often express mental distress in behaviour that we adults label as bad or naughty. Playing up, bunking off, damaging themselves or others, or being rude and uncommunicative are all ways in which children let us know that all is not well.

As a society, the challenge to sort out our mistakes so that we don’t leave children with a legacy of anxiety is too big an issue to discuss here. But as health service providers, our responsibility to hear and help children is enormous.

As always, there is the issue of funding. Child and adolescent mental health services really are the poor relation of the poor relation of the NHS, which is generic mental health services. I hope that isn’t too confusing for you – it is certainly too confusing for parents who are told they should have access to a service, if only the waiting list wasn’t so long and their issues a little more urgent.

Then there’s the vulnerability of the children. Adults with mental health problems struggle to be heard and helped, so imagine how much more difficult it is for children. Add to that the ‘naughty’ or ‘stupid’ labels we all too easily put on them, and we have a really anxiety-provoking situation.

Not wishing to roll the clichés out but the way in which we support children now will affect how society is shaped in future. We need to give children struggling to be mentally healthy the message that they are valued, and we will do everything we can to hear their distress and help them, towards a future free from crippling fear and anxiety.

Alison Gadsby is a mental health nurse in Cambridge

To read more of Alison Gadsby’s views click on the more by the author link at the top of the page.

To read 'Evaluating the clinical nurse specialist role in child health' in the NT archive click here

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