Yesterday was National Youth Mental Health Day and to be honest you could say that every day is Youth Mental Health Day for us here at The Youth Fairy as we support young people with their well-being in various ways – whether that’s through therapy sessions, our blogs, school programmes and the charities within which we work.
The founder of this Youth Mental Health Day is stem4, one of the charities that supports young people in building positive mental health. You can access their resources here www.stem4.org.
The purpose of a “Day” is to raise awareness of a particular issue – to create more opportunities to have open discussions and to breakdown any misconceptions, stigmas or stereotypes linked, in this case, to Youth Mental Health concerns.
Changes in behaviour may signal youth mental health concerns:
These may occur when a young person is encountering one or more challenges or changes – these might appear to be big things:
- changes in relationships
- arguments in the home
- change of school
- moving house
- ill-health or loss of a family member or friend
Or they may appear to be smaller things:
- change of friendship groups
- struggling with homework
- not getting enough sleep (common problem for teenagers)
Feeling overwhelmed, out of control, or that they are not coping so well can contribute to changes in their behaviour and may prompt you to be concerned. They may become more isolated, moody/mood swings, worry more, angry and irritable, be more tearful, it may effect their eating (overeating or not eating enough) or you could notice a change in their hygiene.
It’s difficult isn’t it – because if you’ve lived with a teenager you might notice some of these behaviours as ‘typical’ and to be expected, but, if you can develop regular opportunities for open discussion with your children then it can help you to encourage small changes before there is a need for concern.
Stem4’s focus for this year’s Youth Mental Health Day is “Stride Forward” #StrideForward. The aim is to give young people a voice and to work together with adults, charities and health professionals to improve the mental health and well-being of our young people.
How to support this in the home:
- Give your children (and adults) a voice to discuss the mental health challenges they, their friends or family are facing. This can begin as a conversation over breakfast (maybe not with teens!) or over dinner. Don’t be afraid to ask your children how they are doing, check in to see if they are coping and if there is anything you can do to support them.
- You can share your own struggles (as parents we are not immune) – talk about things you have done differently to enable yourself to cope better. Maybe you’ve changed your routine, found better ways to look after yourself, have identified the person you are comfortable to talk to and lean on when things are difficult.
- Make time for ‘problem free’ talk so the focus is not always on the challenges they are facing to add balance – the dinner table is a great time to go round and share what’s been good (maybe 3 things from each person) to encourage the habit of recognising achievements, however small and continue to re-enforce the idea that despite their challenges there are still things to be pleased about, grateful for or appreciative of.
- Write a note or a post-it telling your children/spouse/sibling something you appreciate about them. Showing an interest in their lives and interests to help them feel valued and build connection with them. This can also help to identify any emerging concerns, for example if they have suddenly lost interest in things that excited them or gave them joy before.
- Listen to a relaxation/meditation before bed to help with winding down and falling asleep more quickly.
- Take up a new sport or physical activity – exercise (and interacting positively with others) creates lots of feel good chemicals and dopamine which are essential for good mood and motivation.
- Start a new (or rekindle an old) hobby – when we engage in activities we enjoy, find calming or of interest to us our brain rewards us with serotonin (happiness chemical). Encourage them and show an interest in their day.
As Mental Health First Aiders, Youth Fairies Sian and Lisa are trained in the five basic steps of Mental Health First Aid. You may well be the first to notice the challenges or the changes for your children and so our top tips for you are:
- Give regular opportunities for them to talk to you – the car can be a great place to start conversations as there is little pressure for eye contact. Although do be prepared to pull over if the conversation requires your full attention!
- Listen, listen and listen more – it can be really difficult as a parent, but let them talk and resist the urge to interrupt them, finish their sentences or offer advice before they’ve finished explaining.
- Show you are taking them seriously (even if you can’t relate to how they are feeling) and offer a non-judgemental ear. We know that our experiences are very different to our children’s (even before the pandemic) but we can let them know that we have listened and ask them what support they may want.
- Seek professional help. As parents, sadly, we don’t have all the answers, so know that you can seek advice form the GP, local mental health services or a private therapist.
- Assist them in identifying supportive people in their lives – sometimes it’s really difficult to talk to you, their parent, about an issue but they may feel comfortable chatting to an older cousin, aunt or uncle.
If you have any concerns there are a number of websites and helplines that may be a first port of call, alongside meeting with your GP to discuss any concerns and signpost any appropriate help:
Young Minds: www.youngminds.co.uk
Young Minds Parent Helpline (Monday – Friday):0808 802 5544
Eating disorders: www.b-eat.co.uk
National Self-Harm Network: www.nshn.co.uk
Papyrus: Advice and support for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts. 0800 068 4141
Childline (Under 19s): 0800 11 11