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In thinking about this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week I have been considering what it is children need to experience good mental health. In a recent publication, the Division of Clinical Psychology set out 10 core needs we have as humans (see reference below):

  1. Experience a sense of justice and fairness
  2. A sense of security and belonging
  3. Feeling safe, valued and loved in our earliest relationships
  4. Have our basic physical and material needs met
  5. Form relationships and partnerships
  6. Feel valued and effective in family and social roles
  7. To experience and manage a range of emotions
  8. Contribute, achieve and meet goals
  9. Exercise agency and control in our own lives
  10. Sense of hope, belief, meaning and purpose in our lives.

One way of understanding mental health is that it occurs when there is a threat to these core needs or they are not met, e.g. a child who is bullied, who is abused or neglected, who has experiences in education where they feel they aren’t achieving, where they experience poverty, where they are discriminated against… the list goes on.

Children who are struggling to feel healthy on the inside, have had these core needs threatened in some way. They’ve had to make sense of the world given these experiences, maybe taking meanings from it such as, “I’m no good”, “other people are scary”, “people don’t help when I need”, “there’s no point, nothing is going to get better”. Children might be left feeling anxious, miserable, angry. And, children have to find a way to adapt and survive this. If a child believes “I’m no good” they might start to avoid socialising because they feel others won’t want them. Or, if a child believes “people don’t help when I need” they might feel angry and hit out at others, or think that they need to solve all their own problems.

Ultimately, when we think of children not feeling healthy on the inside, this isn’t because they are broken or flawed; in fact, they’ve adapted and survived adversity and threat. And, therefore, if we want children to feel healthier on the inside we need to provide them with healthy environments and communities, where their core needs are met. This will give children the opportunity to thrive and live a life which is rich, full and meaningful.

When children experience threats to their core needs we should all be careful not to locate this problem with an individual: whether that be the child, a parent/carer, a professional. In my work, I have seen how people in children’s communities are nearly always doing the best with what they have, but one person cannot do it all. It takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, this Children’s Mental Health Week I’m thinking about how I can work with others in the child’s community (including all the amazing parents, teachers, carers, social workers, health professionals, family support workers) to create the healthy outside which will enable and facilitate the child’s healthy inside. I invite everybody to do the same.

This blog has drawn on the principles of the Power, Threat, Meaning Framework: Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M. with Cromby, J., Dillon, J., Harper, D., Kinderman, P., Longden, E., Pilgrim, D. & Read, J. (2018). The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Towards the identification of patterns in emotional distress, unusual experiences and troubled or troubling behaviour, as an alternative to functional psychiatric diagnosis. Leicester: British Psychological Society.

Dr Greg Stocks is a clinical psychologist with 2gether’s CAMHS team in Herefordshire.
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