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Five ways to start mental health conversations with kids, according to Rochelle Humes

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Rochelle Humes attends the Glamour Women of The Year Awards 2023 at One Marylebone on October 17, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
Rochelle Humes has partnered with M&S and YoungMinds to highlight the importance of talking about mental health with children. (Getty Images)

As we become more aware of how vital it is to take care of our mental health, it has become more important than ever to talk about it with our friends, family, loved ones, and in public.

But when it comes to talking about mental health with children, things might get trickier. Children might not have the vocabulary to express exactly how they’re feeling, or adults might feel awkward about bringing the topic up.

In conjunction with Children’s Mental health Week, Marks and Spencer has teamed up with Rochelle Humes to encourage open and honest mental health conversations between young people and the adults in their lives.

Humes, who is an M&S x YoungMinds Ambassador and mum-of-three, highlights research that suggests more young people than ever are struggling with their mental health.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2021 survey, published by the NHS, found that five children in every classroom are struggling with their mental health.

Teenage girls sitting in a row at the desks in the classroom and writing an exam.
Children's mental health has gotten worse since 2017, a survey by the NHS found. (Getty Images)

The survey also revealed that rates of probable mental disorders have increased since 2017, rising from 11.6% to 17.4% among six to 16-year-olds, and up 17.4% from 10.1% among 17 to 19-year-olds.

M&S has partnered with young people’s mental health charity YoungMinds to raise awareness of what help is available to help those struggling with their mental health, as well as raise funds for resources.

In a survey commissioned to mark the partnership, it was revealed that despite struggling with their mental health, 65% of young people hadn’t asked for any kind of formal support.

Around a third (33%) said they felt too embarrassed to reach out for help. However, not getting the support they need has had an impact on their everyday lives - with 61% of those waiting for mental health support no longer attend school, college, university or work.

The campaign aims to get young people more help, more quickly. Laura Bunt, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “No young person should feel alone with their mental health, but we know that many are in need of support. It's difficult to hear your child is struggling with their mental health and starting a conversation with them can feel daunting.”

In order to help trusted adults be more proactive in starting discussions with kids about mental health, Humes has provide five of her top tips to get started.

Find a safe space to talk

Find a space that your child or young person feels safe, calm and comfortable in. This might be a private, quiet space at home, or it might be doing an activity you enjoy together, eg: walking, baking, or doing a craft to take the pressure off the conversation.

Listen

Take uninterrupted time to ask how they are feeling. It could be something you have already noticed, or it might be an open question. Listen in a non-judgemental way, what may seem small or unimportant may feel a big issue for a younger person. Understanding the issue will make it easier for you to help.

Validate

It’s so helpful to validate their feelings. You could say: “It’s really understandable that you’re feeling this way”, which will reassure them that their feelings are okay and never something they need to hide.

Reassure

Let them know that you love them, you're there for them and they can talk to you whenever they need to. Ask them if there is anything you can do that would help. Celebrate any steps they have taken to feel better.

Keep checking in

Thank them for sharing how they’re feeling and encourage them to carry on communicating their feelings. It’s OK if they don’t want to engage, don’t give up. It’s important to keep talking about normal things, as well as checking in on how they are feeling, and anything they may have found difficult.

Bunt added: “These tips, from M&S x YoungMinds Ambassador, Rochelle Humes, can help create a space where children and young people feel supported to talk about what’s on their mind.

“It’s important to remember they might struggle to open up to begin with but giving them the opportunity to talk will help them know they’re not alone."

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