Image: Vancouver Film School

    By Barry Richardson: Creative Director @ The Worrinots

Halloween can conjure up many images. For some it is a fun time characterised by copious amounts of sugar-filled sweets and silly costumes. However, clearly Halloween has a darker side, it can be scary (especially with this clown craze going around). For parents and teachers though the scariest thing that won’t be seen this Halloween is the truly shocking state of children’s mental wellbeing.

Indeed, the chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, Professor Dame Sue Bailey, has recently warned that the UK should be prepared for a “tsunami” of adults with mental health problems unless immediate remedial action is taken to help children. Here at The Worrinots, our own findings paint an alarming picture of children’s mental health. It is widely publicised that one in ten children have a clinically diagnosable mental health disorder and that furthermore 290,000 children and young people have an anxiety disorder. That’s a chilling figure. The problem of untreated and unrecognised child mental health issues is simply astonishing and does not bode well at all for the future.

So what can we do about it?
Many parents and teachers opt for some of the soft options to the problem, but worry boxes and cuddly toys aren’t the answer. Earlier this year research highlighted that many parents mollycoddle children by not reading them books with scary characters in them. Most, if not all, other approaches employed by adults to try and reduce children’s anxiety, stress and worries are similarly ineffective. The underlying issue causing a child’s anxiety continues to fester storing up greater problems the longer it is left without being addressed. The solutions required needn’t be difficult, just different and well considered.

Instead of wrapping children up in cotton wool and thereby reducing not increasing their mental resilience, we as a society, as parents and as teachers, should adopt a more child-focused solution to the problem. One that can actually work. For example, we hear all the time how children are adept at using mobiles (sometimes even before they can talk) so why not use technology and apps to help children?

We should not stop reading scary books to children; in fact parents and teachers should hold children’s hands more and walk them through these difficult issues just like they do at Halloween.

As mentioned, apps provide one viable alternative solution. The Worrinots app helps children communicate their fears, worries and anxieties in a way that is easy, accessible and trusted. More importantly the app provides tips and advice that can and does make a real difference. Going back to our research, we found that nearly 90% of schools recognise children prefer to share their fears digitally. The Worrinots app gives children exactly the platform they are comfortable with.

Trust me, the state of our children’s mental health is scarier than anything else you will come across this Halloween. Although you may not have noticed it yet, not seen anything untoward, this is precisely why the issue is so great. It is lurking in the shadows, waiting to come out and greater attention needs to be given to the issue by everyone, particularly teachers and parents, so that we can all start to address the problem together. The fact children are often reluctant to discuss their worries and fears with adults does not mean they don’t exist, or they don’t want to. Maybe they just don’t know how. So let’s give children an app with tools helping children overcome their concerns and provide them with a vehicle to share what is really on their minds.

This new, different approach provides a way of reducing the impact of this oncoming tsunami, rather than letting it devastate the younger generations’ future. What is very clear is that the current approaches being taken to child mental health needs to be changed. At the moment they are horrifying.

Let’s scrutinise Halloween for a moment, ghosts and clowns are usually creepy but Halloween makes them acceptable. Mental health and fears should be treated in the same way.

Let’s not do nothing. Parents, grandparents and teachers can start to make a change today. Nominate a school you think can benefit from the Worrinots