One in Eight Children now have Mental Health Disorders

Sussex author and mental health champion, Jo FitzGerald, speaks out on why and how she is fighting to reduce this statistic.


Tiny Sponges is a company that provides guidance and resources for safeguarding and mental health skills to parents, carers and educators, and over the Christmas period, I met with Tiny Sponges founder Jo FitzGerald.  Jo, an author and teacher,  is taking a stand on child mental health.

In her adult life, Jo, aged 54, was hit hard with the death of her sister and her father which manifested itself into PTSD.

Jo’s sister had a big drinking problem, and through this illness was hospitalised with Hepatitis, which she survived only to take her own life.  A short time later, Jo’s father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Cancer and Jo watched him go very quickly and very horribly.

And finally, to add to these dark years, Jo’s mum, an alcoholic, slowly passed away from not eating.

Said Jo: “Being an alcoholic is a mental illness and also the stopping eating is part of it as well, and a very slow way of committing suicide.  She didn’t want to go on, she just wanted to go.”

Jo’s original vision was to train early years practitioners but soon realised that her passion lay with helping parents.  She realised that if we are to help our children, it has to start with the family.

She explained: “Mental health is so important to me, and in the context of children, I have seen in my career where children have been unreachable.  I was deputy headteacher in a child referral unit and that was mainly children in care, and those children had been so badly affected either by their own mental health or usually by the mental health of their parents going into care.

“Mental Health which includes anxiety is a growing thing in the UK, there is an explosion, wherever I go I get parents saying to me “my child is anxious”.

“Usually you hear nobody will refer them or CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service] have said they won’t be able to see them for 18 months or maybe 3 years and that’s not good enough, that is just nowhere near good enough.”


Jo created a Facebook group reaching out to parents about wellbeing and resilience, and then the Grenfell tower block fire and terror attacks happened.

“My social media was going a little bit crazy with parents saying “I think my child has seen this, I don’t know what they’ve seen, is there anywhere I can go for help, should I say anything to my child, what should I say” and I looked around and I couldn’t find anything.

“So I wrote the book. [How to Keep Safe in a Sometimes Scary World].

“I knew this story was current so it had to be out there quickly so we published this book ourselves.

“I’ve been into a couple of local schools who have seen my book and bought my book and I now have a scheme of work around it which is a lot to do with safety and a lot to do with PSHE [Personal, Social and Health Education].

“Children understanding their emotions, children understanding that if they have worries, that the best thing they can do is communicate that to someone and not hold on to it.

“Schools do have a duty, but the reality is they are suffering dreadfully from lack of funding, they are asking parents to pay for books, and stationery, so how are they going to afford more resources to deal with children’s mental health?

“The one thing parents can do is educate themselves.  That’s very easily said, it’s very easy for me to say that it’s down to the parent, because it’s not always that easy.  How do you get that information? How do parents even know about resilience and wellbeing if they haven’t had that in their past anyway?

“This is why I am trying to reach as many people as I can with social media with this message.

“It’s reaching parents”

As Tiny Sponges grows, Jo is aiming to reach more parents through her website Tiny Sponges, writing for Preschool Learning Alliance and becoming the UK distributor for the Strength Academy.  A Danish company who focus on positive psychology.


Jo aims to continue to reach out to parents and schools to make them aware of the tools available, such as the 24 Character Strengths game by the Strength Academy.

“What makes humankind happy?  If you type in VIA [viacharacter.org], you can actually take a test for yourself and find out what your strengths are”

With these tools becoming available in the UK, maybe 2019 will see even more help available for child mental health.


2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for interviewing me. I love your writing. You are very talented.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for making it so easy for me :)

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