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Mental Health Matters

Forces Children Scotland 6 days ago

Influencing Policy Mental Health

Mental Health is recognised as one of the biggest challenges children and young people face today.

Children and young people in armed forces and veteran families face some additional challenges over and above their peers.

Frequent moves, deployment and separation from parents, and gaps in their learning creating additional stress with exams are just some challenges that these children and young people tell us can affect their mental health and wellbeing.

Under Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) every child has the right to the best attainable health and for the right services to support them. This includes their mental health.

One of the unique stressors of armed forces life is deployment.

A deployment is when the serving parent is sent somewhere within the UK or abroad for a particular purpose. This means that there will be a separation between the serving parent and their child.

Research has shown that the more deployments a child is exposed to, the greater the adverse effect on their mental health. The longer the deployments are, the more likely they are to suffer poor mental health.

“I’m scared they won’t come back.”

Children and young people have asked for support through this unique challenge. It is important for them to have support during the pre, during and post deployment phases.

“I get depressed when my parent is away.”

“When your parents go overseas, and you can’t sleep at night.

Children and young people in armed forces families can also experience frequent moves which may mean facing delayed treatments and assessments or a break in support while things are put in place in a new area.

“My confidence is down because I’m the new kid all the time – everyone staring at you.”

This can be especially detrimental when a child or young person requires care from the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Despite the Armed Forces Covenant Duty legally obliging healthcare providers to ensure no disadvantage is experienced due to be part of an armed forces or veteran family, moving can mean children and young people losing their place on the waiting list or ending and restarting therapeutic relationships multiple times.

“I can get stressed and angry sometimes”

Children and young people from armed forces families are also more likely to be young carers, whether that is because of additional responsibilities while their parent is deployed or caring for a parent who has become a veteran through medical discharge.

Carers Trust reports that caring roles are a risk factor for young people’s mental health, with one survey showing 38% of young carers experience mental health problems.

Young carers can also find it more difficult to access support due to their caring responsibilities or worry that saying they find it difficult, may have negative consequences for them or the person they are caring for.

Regardless of the reason for their poor mental health, some children and young people from forces families may avoid talking to their parents about it. They may wish to protect them, or they have grown up in a culture where service comes first, and sacrifice is expected.

This is why it is important that support is easily accessed by children and young people themselves at the earliest opportunity. Earlier interventions will mean less children and young people reach a crisis point.

“If I had gotten [the support] sooner a lot of the stress that I felt would have been dealt with.”

Forces Children Scotland wants to see these children surrounded by people who understand their unique lives, who are equipped to provide the right support at the right time and who can divert to well resourced, specialist mental health and wellbeing interventions in a timely manner.

Forces Children Scotland calls on the Ministry of Defence and Scottish Government to invest in the provision of early intervention mental health and wellbeing supports for children and young people connected with the armed forces, preventing the need for medical interventions.

This early response must understand the unique contexts in which these children grow up and the part it plays in their development. Currently appropriate services are not widely available for these young people.

Forces Children Scotland will continue to deliver our own mental health and wellbeing services such as Your Mind Matters for children and young people from armed forces and veteran families.

We encourage everyone reading this to have a look at the resources available on the Your Mind Matters Hub, they really can make things feel a little better.