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21-01-20

Child mental health crisis 'escalating due to climate change'

 

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The child mental health crisis is escalating due to "invisible harms" such as climate change and a more intense news cycle, according to a London -based counsellor. 

Louis Weinstock is the co-founder of Apart of Me, an app designed to engage young people and help them process their grief.

It was inspired by his work at a school for excluded pupils and a Hackney-based hospice. 

While he has worked with children on the extreme end of harm - those who have suffered neglect and abuse - he told the Standard he believes exposure to broader world issues are driving the escalation in the child mental health crisis. 

"Just because they're invisible doesn't mean they are not as negative, as bad for the children's mind (as personal trauma)," he said. 

"We've moved into a situation where there are many more invisible harms: from the collapse ecological system that supports us, to technologies that are designed to addict us and be ultimately harmful to our mental health, the news cycle and the exaggeration of emotions like fear and anger and outrage."

In 2018, a Children’s Society report revealed more than 100,000 children aged 14 in the UK are self-harming, with 22 per cent of girls affected.

Last year, the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2018 there was a 13.9 per cent rise from 2017 in the suicide rate among 10 to 19-year-olds.

When children are dealing with trauma, particularly if it is unresolved, Mr Weinstock said it can manifest itself in what many would interpret as bad behaviour, such as skipping school or hanging out with people who can be a bad influence. 

"I have young people more and more who are coming to see me who are really feeling complicated feelings when they hear about the fires in Australia or they are hearing about what is happening with climate change," he said.

"They're experiencing a world that seems to be veering into some kind of collapse and its very hard for them - and it's hard for their parents to know - what to do with those feelings."

One child in particular who Mr Weinstock worked with had been suspended from school after walking out of class a number of times.

When asked what was going on, Mr Weinstock said: "He said that everyone was being fake.... that all the adults around him were just going around and acting as though everything is fine.

"But he said: 'I've been reading, I've been watching stuff I've been doing my research into what's going on in the world and particularly around climate and I feel completely hopeless about it.'"

Mr Weinstock added that while many would typically respond to the child by trying to make them feel better about the situation or find a quick fix, it is better to validate their feelings. 

"It's valid to have feelings of hopelessness, it's valid to have feelings of despair about what's going on in the world," he said.

"We really need a different perspective on working with mental health in this day and age to really understand that children's minds are affected in so many more of these invisible ways and learn to not just try and brush it under the carpet." 

This experience is part of the reason why Mr Weinstock developed the app Apart of Me, which guides users through a peaceful and beautiful island that is home to areas of mediation, community, and games that help them to work through grief, such as learning how to label emotions. 

Young people experiencing grief have been brought in to co-develop the game, which ultimately aims for the person to become a "guide" - where they can use their grief as a way to support others going through a similar experience. 

"I wanted a place that they could access whenever they felt like they needed some support," Mr Weinstock said. "Grief doesn't show up for a 50-minute counselling slot once a week."

He said he also wants to bring ease to conversations around death, which young people are often excluded from.

"People think they are protecting them by excluding them," he added.

"But actually children are picking up what's going on in the environment anyway and it can end up affecting them much worse if people are unable to be a bit more upfront with them about it."

The app, launched last year and already accessed by nearly 75,000 people around the world, has been accessed by many outside the 13 to 25 year age group it targets. 

"I had a palliative care social worker contact me a few months ago saying how helpful she'd found the game because she didn't actually have a space where she could process the grief she was carrying from just working with people's grief all the time," Mr Weinstock said.

He hopes to now work on building a community within the game where young people can connect and provide support for each other, a concept inspired by an African tribe who have weekly meetings to air their grievances, bringing about a sense of well-being. 

"There's the obvious grief when you lose someone but there's also the grief that you experience when you lose your first teddy bear or things don't go your way or experiencing grief at what's going on in the world," he said. "I have a theory that we're all walking around with this unresolved grief."

Source: Evening Standard