Looking out for the next generation – the importance of children’s mental health

To mark Parents Mental Health day on 27 January, we asked Second Step Bank Team worker Emma to write about a subject very close to her heart. Emma has experienced first-hand the damage of intergenerational trauma, suffering herself as a child. When her seven-year-old son started to experience severe anxiety after an emergency hospital admission, Emma decided to try to do something about it, and is now campaigning for change to prevent others from going through the same ordeal.

In 2010, I began working in adult mental health services. That same year marked significant cuts to early childhood services in England. As a new professional, it seemed concerning to cut funding for early childhood given the vital impact of those early years. I soon witnessed the short-term consequences for families relying on that support.

Today at Second Step, I work with adults facing homelessness and adversity. I think of their difficult childhoods and wonder how their lives might have differed with adequate support. It’s a privilege to support them now, but I so wish sufficient earlier intervention had been given.

My mental health journey

Growing up, despite suffering with anxiety, poor self-esteem and attachment difficulties, I had very little understanding of mental health and neurodiversity. I have no memory of any professional support. These things weren’t discussed at school, and at the time were far more stigmatised than they are today.

The support and education myself and my family needed simply was not there. I have only recently understood the impact generational trauma can bring, and have so much compassion for my whole family. My mother certainly did not choose to suffer with her mental health in the way she did and still does, nor did my grandmother and nor did I. I do however hold an enormous amount anger and blame towards this completely underfunded support system that is there to help those in need.

My mental health reached crisis point following the birth of my second child when I suffered with post-natal depression and extreme anxiety during lockdown. When I reached out for support, I was offered little beyond antidepressants and a waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). My family’s suffering went unacknowledged. I remember feeling very alone during this time - feeling like everyone else was coping so much better than I was, which also brought a level of shame to my already debilitating mental pain.

A serious lack of support

Statistics show over 8.6 million people in England were prescribed antidepressants in 2022/23 [i]. Medication helps, but the support I later received made the biggest difference in my recovery. Unable simply to sit and wait on a waiting list, I began to see a private psychotherapist who introduced me to Internal Family Systems Therapy through which I began to understand and implement self-compassion. I also had access to peer support, and started to get better.

I often wonder how much of my mental ill health could have been prevented had I known what I now do in terms of recognising and managing my emotions, my neurodiversity and my needs. Given the shocking statistics of those suffering with poor mental health, I find the lack of this kind of holistic support and education completely astonishing. We seem to have moved so far away from “prevention is better than cure”, and are now suffering the emotional and monetary cost.

Helping the next generation

My seven-year old son recently suffered badly following an emergency operation, but he did not meet the threshold – was not deemed severe enough - to receive help through Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services. And even if he had, the average wait times for a first appointment is 21 weeks. Children should not have to be in crisis to get support. We were fortunate enough to be able to get him private care, and his issues were quickly resolved, but many families face long-lasting suffering without affordable access.

Needing an avenue to channel my anger, I created the petition below which I have attached to an open letter to government "Calling for children’s mental health to be given the priority it so desperately needs." This also heavily touches on education reform.  I feel privileged to support the work of The Bristol Wellbeing College and have seen first-hand the positive difference the classes make to so many. I believe this work is invaluable and would love to see more emphasis on this form of support through education within schools.

The petition would need a huge number of signatures for it to be debated in Parliament, but less so for a response. Any signatures and sharing would be so appreciated.


Thank you so much


[i] https://media.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/news/nhs-releases-mental-health-medicines-statistics-for-20222023-in-england#:~:text=In%202022%2F23%2C%2086%20million,identified%20patients%20than%202021%2F22.