A successful Liverpool author with multiple books and awards behind her is calling on Liverpool leaders to address what she terms “an everlasting failure by the nation to address the mental health needs of young children.”
Natalie Billing Reeves, from Toxteth says that avoidance has been the only strategy deployed to date in the UK when it comes to the subject of including children aged 7 and younger in mental health discussions and providing for their needs.
“I’ve grown up in a city that has so much unity in its ranks when it comes to helping fellow members of society. It makes sense that given how open we’ve become nationally about mental health through the pandemic that now is the time to create change and use that heightened awareness to help the very young in Liverpool.
“Historically, mental health strategies are aimed at secondary school pupils, but I would argue that it’s too late for too many children by then. A young child should be given the opportunity to learn in the early years what’s right for them and help gain a sense of identity. The perception amongst many parents might be that they are too young, but the realities of life tell us different. Avoidance is not the answer.”
2022 is the Year of the Spoken Word in Liverpool and Natalie (who is on the core planning group) is determined to use the opportunity to engage with leaders and dignitaries and their voices with a view to timetabling a plan to construct a unique, city approach to the issue that could become a template nationally.
Natalie has chosen a panel platform to do this at the launch of Where Is My Smile (next week in Waterloo’s Write Blend bookstore), her latest picture book aimed at 3-7-year-olds that she’s written telling the story of how a young boy goes on a physical journey through different locations in and around his home to find his smile which ends up uniting the family.
“The topic of the book is really a conversation piece with lots of downloads for parents and their children to help complement it post-launch on July 20th. I was inspired to write It because I wanted to help families come together, talk, and share feelings until everyone can genuinely smile. Adults and young children hold on to feelings in very different ways, and in the latter, this sometimes can manifest in physical ways harmful to the child.”
Those supporting the event include Kim Rutherford, founder of 8Wise™️ who is a mental health & wellbeing expert and psychotherapist. She said: “With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health issues in any 12-month period and 3 in 4 being at risk of developing them, mental health and wellbeing support services are needed more now than ever for all age groups.
From my personal and professional experience, the mental health issues that we have as adults more than often are created in early childhood through poor attachment, neglect, traumatic experiences, social disadvantages and feelings of isolation, so focussing on mental health services that provide both recovery and prevention strategies from a very early age may, be the solution to tackling the current mental health crisis.”
In addition, Fern McCluskey, educator and a counsellor firmly believes it is our duty to be pro-active rather than reactive. Emphasis on mental health for children should be just as important as physical health education. I do weekly lessons with ages 6 up to 18 and the aim is to make information about mental health and support as accessible to children as it is to adults.”
Natalie herself reflects on her own early age mental health in the various events she regularly speaks at across the UK. It inspired her to become the ambassador for the Boat of Hope child mental health campaign, benefitting the Samaritans. She openly admits to being labelled an ‘odd child with intense emotions.’
“I was in an environment in which I grew up too quick. We didn’t talk about real feelings in my family. I had to look for comfort elsewhere, a safer space if you like. At the core, it’s what every young child needs and I believe we are a city ideally suited to be a leader for change in how mental health for young children is both perceived and delivered.”