SSAFA addresses the ‘unique experience’ of Armed Forces youngsters in Children’s Mental Health Week

Staff of SSAFA’s Community Health Care Team – working in British Forces bases from Canada to Kenya, from Cyprus to Sennelager, and from Brussels to Brunei – supported Children’s Mental Health Week 2022. This year’s theme was “Growing Together”, with emphasis on exploring the different ways that young people can grow emotional and psychological resilience, and help others to do so, too.

According to a survey carried out in advance of the awareness week, some 95% of school staff questioned had witnessed an increase in anxiety among pupils this school year.

SSAFA’s Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS) team and School Nurses took this as their impetus for workshops carried out in schools – with a military slant to it.

CAHMS Nurse Siobhan Cambridge said that membership of the Armed Forces community is a

“…unique experience, that provides many great opportunities for its personnel and their families, but within this unique experience can be many challenges faced by the young people within this community.”

Siobhan added that Year 10 students identified as the age group where support is often most needed, observing:

“From my experience of working as a CAMHS Nurse within the Armed Forces community, one of the biggest challenges that appears to impact on the young people’s mental health is the constant change in friendship dynamics.

“These challenges can occur for different reasons, some of which are out of the young person’s control. Some examples: the family being deployed or moved, the friend’s family being deployed or moved, being away from family members or friends, being the ‘new person’, not wanting to move location or school, fallouts in friendships, living in a small community, not having similar interests to others within the small environment, bullying, living in false environments, rank systems, direct or indirect experiences of conflict.

“Consequently, these challenges can impact young people’s mood, emotions, and daily functioning. They can also create feelings of worry, isolation, as well as loneliness.”

Describing the workshops carried out, Siobhan said that these observations resonated with young people taking part, noting:

“In the group discussions the majority stated they had had these experiences and they felt it was important to raise this awareness.

“One young person informed they had moved location 11 times, while another student said that they felt ‘…more understood as people were asking about my experiences’.

Concluding, Siobhan said:

“This would indicate the importance of communicating and listening to the young people within the Armed Forces Community to hear about their unique and challenging experiences, especially if it’s impacting on their mental health.”

UK Armed Forces personnel overseas should contact their local Medical Centre if they are concerned about their child’s mental health.

Click here for more information on the services provided by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity in Cyprus.

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