Mental Health: How Can Parents Help a Child Who’s Struggling?

February 14, 2017 by Minerva Tutors,

This week, in order to find out more about the mental health crisis facing young people in the UK, we spoke to Cami Moorjani. Cami has many years experience working in mental health as both a coach and counsellor to people of all ages, and across the whole mental health spectrum. In Part 1 of our interview, we talked about the generational gap in the mental health field, and how parents can help, rather than hinder, children who may be struggling.   


Hi Cami, thanks so much for speaking to us. Would you say you’ve been seeing more young people (16-21) in the last few years, or are the numbers reasonably steady?

I work in coaching now, less than counselling, so couldn’t really say. But purely based on what I hear from my kids, I’d say there’s certainly been a bounce in the number of young people interested in seeking support.


Do you think people are more aware of mental health issues than they were, say, five years ago?

I think young people are more aware of the mental health field than their parents would have been, which is a big difference. For the older generation, I’m not 100% sure how different it is. They’ve probably heard and read more but, there’s probably a risk that people are generally thinking about someone else’s children…even if there’s greater awareness, there’s a gap in acknowledging it could be your child. It’s scary to accept it could be your kid, after everything you’ve done to take care of them.


Might some of the difficulty stem from a fear about one’s own parenting?

I have no data but it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a scary place to be – no one tells you how to do it. In my experience, it’s lurking in the back of my mind, ‘have I got it wrong?’ It wouldn’t surprise me if other parents feel the same way, you know – ‘is this an indictment of my parenting?’ I’m not saying it’s the main reason, but it’s part of a complicated mix for sure.


What other factors could be involved?

It’ll also be based on a lot of people not knowing what mental health challenges are, and what they’re about. If everything’s seems to be going well in your life, why would you be depressed? What have you got to be stressed about? The response some kids might get is ‘that’s nothing, try having a job and looking after five kids’ – which isn’t particularly helpful. There’s an awareness and knowledge gap about what causes things like anxiety, low mood and depression. It’s not the parent’s fault, it’s just a gap in the knowledge – previously it was something that wasn’t really talked about, and an area a lot of parents maybe haven’t dealt with and don’t feel comfortable with.


Do you think that maybe puts some parents off confronting their kids?

There’s so much fear and anxiety about doing and saying the wrong thing, when you’re interacting with someone in a fragile state who themselves doesn’t necessarily know what’s going on. The teenage years are difficult enough anyway without adding this in as well – teenagers aren’t even sure what they’re experiencing. Is it being a teenager, or is it more than that?


What advice would you give to parents who are concerned about a child’s mental health?

No 1 piece of advice – always just focus on listening. Try and understand how it looks from their perspective. Sometimes just being that one person who doesn’t try and solve the problem or pass judgment or tell them what they should do can be the best gift you can give them.

But when you’re a parent and your child’s in distress, it’s the hardest thing in the world. The hardest thing is just to listen and accept – letting go of the need to fix it and make it better. Let go of trying to be the expert, and just listen, see how it is from their perspective and understand it as best you can – which will never be completely. That not only conveys that they matter – their point of view and their view and feelings matter (even if they don’t make sense at all, that’s ok) – but that you’re there to listen, to try and understand come what may. That says so much more than doing anything else. It says ‘I respect you as an individual in your own right, having a difficult experience – that I can never fully understand, but I’ll try and help you and be there by your side, without telling you what to do.


So it’s mainly about being there, and available to listen?

You can help them clarify their thoughts by paraphrasing and repeating what you’re hearing. It’s ok to leave the problem unresolved – that it’s just what it is/where they are right now – without feeling the need to fix it and sort it out. That’ll feel so refreshing and supportive that for a lot of situations it might just be enough. I would give that advice to anybody who’s supporting anyone that’s struggling with anything – it’s the one gift that we don’t give enough.


Amazing – thank you so much for your time, Cami!


Cami Moorjani is currently working as a learning and development consultant for DC Thomson, helping to design, run and build development courses and offer one to one coaching, supporting people with specific challenges. She is also a qualified person centred counsellor.


By David Bard


David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.

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