This month marks Children’s Mental Health Week (6th-12th February 2023).
We are sure it comes as no surprise to learn that research suggests that children with allergies, asthma and eczema are more likely to experience mental health issues.
Between managing hospital appointments, experiencing the spontaneity of reactions and asthma exacerbations, all whilst navigating schooling, clubs and friendships, it comes as no surprise that the additional mental load may impact some children.
So what can we do as families and caregivers to support our children who may be experiencing difficulties with their mental health?
- Ask them how they’re doing.
- Be a listening ear, value what they share and validate how they’re feeling.
These will all help to build a relationship of trust and knowing that they can come to you when they need support.
There is more information on communicating with children and their mental health on the NHS website, listed below.
Communication works both ways too.
- When managing health conditions, it is beneficial to be open and honest when talking about their conditions, appointments and medication.
- Not only does it empower children to have knowledge and ownership of their own health, but the relationship of honesty and trust must work in both ways.
Whilst thinking about communication, it is a good idea to share your child’s mental health difficulties with all those that care for them, such as extended family members, teachers and the staff at clubs and groups.
With those trusted adults who come into contact with your child, being well informed can ensure that there is always someone looking out for their mental health, even when you aren’t there.
Building up that relationship of trust with other adults also provides them with someone else that they can confide and chat with.
Seek Professional Support
There is a massive gap in services required for supporting children and families managing health conditions, PTSD and other issues that may result from managing health and chronic conditions.
Depending on where you are in the country will depend on what referrals are available to you.
Professionals often will acknowledge that despite you or your child benefitting from this kind of service, there simply isn’t anywhere for them to refer to on the NHS in many cases.
Despite this, communicating the symptoms and how mental health is impacting your child is vital in ensuring they get the correct care available to them.
Allergy, eczema and asthma teams can help with talking things through, referring to resources and sharing with school nurses and/or health visiting teams.
Having a team on board and those additional people to speak with are truly beneficial and keep everyone on the same page.
An important tool that we can teach our children is how they can self-regulate. Emotional self-regulation provides children with the skills to be in control of their emotions.
Supplying children with a toolkit of skills they can access when they feel overwhelmed can help them feel safe and gain some control.
Some activities may include drawing, deep breathing techniques, yoga, going for a walk outside, blowing bubbles, listening to calming music, and playing with fidget or sensory toys.
Reminding your children of these skills when entering a stressful situation, such as hospital appointments and testing, can help children to feel empowered and more in control.
This year’s Children’s Mental Health Week theme is ‘Let’s Connect’.
When we learnt the theme for this year, we immediately thought of the allergy community online. The allergy community is a friendly and welcoming one, with tips and advice for living with atopic conditions as well as recipes, resources and a sprinkling of fun too! Thinking about this community highlights the importance of finding people who you can make that connection with.
When thinking about our children managing chronic diseases like allergies and asthma, supporting them in building those relationships with others that understand and have empathy can help them to feel less alone. Children can make those connections by attending local support groups for their conditions, but also by attending other clubs and groups linked to their personal interests. Not only will this introduce them to a range of different people, but finding enjoyment in a skill or sport can also help with mental health.
Sometimes our love, empathy and understanding can help validate how our children are feeling. That extra tight squeeze of a cuddle, sharing books and activities together, and simply spending time together can all help in building up that special relationship.
Our children knowing that we will always be there for them, make them feel safe and loved and strong in the knowledge that whatever the future may bring regarding their allergies, eczema and asthma, we can take it on together.
Below you will find a list of useful websites we read before writing this blog entry. If you would like any more information on the topics discussed, click on the links below.
Written by Katie Aspinall
Reviewed by Dr Jose Costa
Disclaimer: Always speak with your health care professional when managing children’s mental health or if you feel like you need more support. Always speak with your doctor before making any changes to your child’s healthcare plan.