Leona O'Neill: As mums and dads we need to talk to children about mental health

With the loss of young lives prominent in the news and suicide rates in the north the highest in the UK, parents need to be supportive of children's mental health, be aware of the help available and look after ourselves too, writes Leona O'Neill

Thanks to the internet and social media, children and young people today can be bullied 24/7

NORTHERN Ireland unfortunately has the highest suicide rate in the UK and tragically in the past three weeks, we have seen more families in Belfast and Derry mourn the loss of young lives.

In the media we are always careful in how we report, and even if we report, on such issues. As journalists we are very aware of how certain images or words can impact on vulnerable people and how articles about suicide can carry so much influence, particularly with those who are feeling low themselves.

It also our responsibility to inform readers on how to help those of whom they love who are in the darkest of places, including our young people.

Leading organisation Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI) is reminding parents that it is on-hand for advice, support and guidance if they have any concerns about their child’s mental health.

One in five children will experience a mental health problem by the time they enter secondary school and research has shown that half of mental health problems suffered by adults are established by the age of 14.

Parentline NI, which is a helpline for parents and carers run by CiNI, has stressed the importance of talking to children about mental health to help take the stigma out of something that affects so many people, break down stereotypes and help aid recovery.

Ellen Finlay, policy officer at CiNI said: “Children today are under a lot more pressures and expectations. Growing up about 10 years ago, we didn’t have the constant connection that social media gives us, so if you were being bullied at school, you could go home and get some respite. Unfortunately, children and young people today can be bullied 24/7.

“Our research into the amount of time a child spends online highlighted that 77 per cent of parents found it difficult to control the amount of screen time. The research also highlighted that parents are extremely concerned about the negative impact upon their child’s mental and physical health, wellbeing and social interaction.”

Parents can promote good mental health in their children by talking to them and creating a safe environment at home. They can also learn to spot the early signs of mental health problems and know where to go to get the help that is needed.

Parentline NI has put together some simple tips on how parents can help promote good mental health

Helping your child develop strong and caring relationships with family and friends can nurture their mental health, so spend quality time with them on a regular basis.

Let your children learn by example. If a problem arises in your household, talk to your child about how you are going to solve the issue. This helps show them how to solve their own problems should they arise.

Help build your child’s self-esteem by showing them lots of love and acceptance. Praise them when they do well and recognise when they are trying their best. Show an interest in their day, their interests and ask lots of open-ended questions.

Listen and respect their feelings. It is perfectly fine for children to feel sad and angry just as us adults do from time to time. Encourage your child to talk about how they feel. Keep communication open and flowing by asking questions. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to you, help them find someone who they would be happy to talk to.

Ensure you know about your child’s use of social media/internet use and the amount of time they are spending online. Agree a time-limit with your child so they do get some time away from their phones or consoles. Also, be aware of who they may be talking to online.

Be careful about discussing serious family issues in front of your child – children often take these issues on themselves and worry about them.

Be your child’s role model by looking after your own mental health. Childhood can be difficult to negotiate, as parents/carers but Parentline NI is there for all parents and carers.

For advice, support or guidance you can call Parentline NI today Freephone 0808 8020 400 or web chat at

If you or anyone you know is experiencing distress or despair Lifeline can help. Call 0808 808 8000. You will receive immediate help on the phone.

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