Mental Health Awareness Week 2023
This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week 2023. It is recognised each year to help raise awareness of the importance of caring for our mental health and to encourage individuals to seek support should they need it. The theme this year is on anxiety and you can access our recent blog on this topic here: https://www.theyouthfairy.com/spotlighting-anxiety/
Remember, mental health is something we all have. It refers to our psychological, emotional, and social well-being and affects how we think, feel, and act. When we have developed strategies to cope well with challenges and times of stress, when we can interact with others in healthy ways, and when we can set boundaries and make good choices then we might consider ourselves to be mentally healthy.
The Youth Fairy, through The Parent Pad blogs, looks to provide information and knowledge and support for parents and young people in understanding mental health and encouraging positive steps towards improving young people’s (and parents’) mental well-being.
The first step in supporting children is to help them to understand how their brain works to create their particular concerns (in an easy-to-digest way) and what we can do about it. This knowledge gives the young person (and parents) a better understanding and is also an important part of the change process – the more we understand, the more we have control over it.
When children are struggling with their mental health:
- They may be feeling anxious, depressed or struggling to control their emotions and reactions.
- They may be feeling overwhelmed, out of control, or that they are not coping so well
- It may contribute to changes in their behaviour and may prompt you to be concerned.
- They may become more isolated or moody, have mood swings, worry more, become angry and irritable, be more tearful, or it may affect their eating (overeating or not eating enough), or you could notice a change in their hygiene habits.
It can be difficult to recognise changes in a young person’s behaviour which may raise concerns about their mental health – aren’t teenagers meant to have mood swings, withdraw and have outbursts?
There are areas, however, that may raise a flag that your child may be struggling with their mental health.
These may include:
- 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 (a common problem for teenagers)
If you notice these changes in their behaviour, what support can you offer at home?
- Listening is more than hearing what your child has to say, it is also about validating their need to share their thoughts and concerns about their own (or their friend’s) mental well-being. Give them a voice.
- Provide regular opportunities for them to talk. And don’t stop giving these opportunities – one day they may need or want to talk about this and they will know that you are ready to listen.
- Don’t be afraid to regularly check in to see how they are coping (with friendships, relationships, schoolwork/pressure, etc) and let them know that you are there to offer support or just to listen when or if they feel ready.
- We often want to show our children how ‘together’ we are. We don’t want to share our weaknesses (or add to our children’s worries). However, we can share our challenges in light of how we are coping better.
- Share the steps we have taken to do things differently, and to make positive changes in areas that were difficult for us. It might be that (having read so many of The Youth Fairy blogs!) you now write down the good things about your day every night and you’ve noticed how this has had a positive effect on your mindset.
- Or perhaps you now go for a walk with a friend once a week and have noticed how this helps you to talk through your worries and get support when you need it.
- We can be role models and show our children how to cope better, without feeling that we are adding to their burdens.
Create positive time
- When we are struggling, we can create a downward spiral – we are not feeling good, so we share (or moan about) the troubles of our day and focus on the challenges and not the things that are going well.
- Because our subconscious mind is always listening, it takes note of our focus and helps us to continue doing more of that activity and so we continue to focus on the challenges, and we lose perspective – if we create a time each day to talk about the positive and good things about our day, our subconscious notices and will start to look for more of this.
- We encourage the families we work with to identify a time when they can share what’s been good about their day, at least one thing from each person – dinner time can be a good time to do this each day.
- This creates a habit of recognising achievements, big and small. In doing this, we help to reinforce the idea that, despite their challenges, there are still things to be pleased about, grateful for or appreciative of.
Write a note
- You might be surprised that even your teenager will (perhaps secretly) still love finding a note telling them something you appreciate about them.
- This helps to build connection and demonstrates an interest in their lives. When they feel this connection, they feel valued, and this can help them to take advantage of opportunities you give them to talk to you.
If you notice your child is struggling, you can also help them by encouraging some positive action.
In our sessions with children, we encourage them to focus on the 3Ps (positive interaction, positive action and positive thoughts). This helps to create more Serotonin, the feel-good chemical.
- Positive Interaction – plan time to spend with a close friend or member of their family, where they enjoy some positive conversation. This can also include positive interactions such as being helpful or doing a kind deed for someone.
- Positive action – this might be taking up an old hobby, or starting a new one, going for a walk or participating in a sport they enjoy.
- Positive Thoughts – keeping a gratitude diary or a list of good things from their day (these can be simple things like enjoying a hot chocolate, talking to a friend or sharing a hug, or it can be bigger things like recognising an achievement in school or sports).
A number of our Youth Fairies are also Youth Mental Health First Aiders and are trained in the five basic steps of Mental Health First Aid. You may be the first to notice the changes in 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 or 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, but we can let them know that we have listened and ask them what support they may want. Try not to be dismissive or downplay their problem. If they have opened up and are seeking support, it’s because this is a very real concern to them no matter how small it may appear to us.
- 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:
Further details, resources and support can be found at Young Minds: www.youngminds.co.uk
There is also further help via the Young Minds Parent Helpline (Monday – Friday): 0808 802 5544
Other support is also available via the following links:
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
You can also contact your nearest Youth Fairy at: https://www.theyouthfairy.com/fairies/