There are around 14 million children (under the age of 18) in the UK and of those children, young people – those aged between 14 and 17 - make up around 1.5 million.
One in ten children and young people experience mental health problems. Worse still around 70% (approximately 105,000) of young people who experience mental health issues go untreated or unsupported.
Considering half a million young people are currently unemployed, trying to get into an economy that faces uncertain times, that number is likely to increase over time.
With mental health funding gutted by budget cuts and the remaining services stretched to the absolute limit, getting young people support isn’t as swift a process as it should be.
However there are things we can do to support young people with mental health issues either as part of ongoing treatment or not.
Freedom and Trust
Adolescence is a difficult time with or without mental health issues. An important part of that process is pushing boundaries and establishing their identity as an individual.
For someone with mental health issues this can even harder than normal. Concerns over what others will think of them, low self-worth or severe anxiety may undermine this important stage of their development.
Do what you can to give them the freedom to explore who they are (or want to be) without fear of judgement. No child likes the thought of letting their parents down so giving them an environment where they can safely explore that is important.
Obviously boundaries still need to be enforced. We’re not advocating turning a blind eye to violent, destructive or criminal behaviour. This is more about providing a ‘safe space’.
Equally, just because someone has mental health issues does not mean they are incapable or need to be watched. Although some individuals are at risk of self-harm, treating a young person like they are an inmate will only drive them away and increase the chances of making the bad choices parents often dread.
Value and Optimism
We’ve all heard someone described as a moody teenager. It’s glib, it’s throwaway and it’s unhelpful.
Whilst a young person may appear moody it isn’t necessarily without good reason and dismissing it as hormones or a mood devalues the individual and makes them feel like how they feel doesn’t matter.
Of course hormones can play a factor and there are times when there is no obvious reason for a mood be it low mood or otherwise, but passing it off as irrelevant builds up walls that can take years to break down again.
Value the individual and take time to understand why they are feeling the way they do. It could just be a bad day or they could be being bullied.
In a society that prizes independence, strength and (to a lesser extent) martial prowess, being bullied can be seen as a major sign of weakness. The young person may be intimidated by the perceived reaction of their support circle.
Communicating that support is unconditional is important for everyone, not just young people.
It’s also important to approach problems with optimism. Although the reaction you get may not be favourable, using reflection techniques, challenging negative thinking and using examples of positive events/actions/behaviours you can help the individual start to see things from a different point of view.
Remember, mental health issues can leave the person feeling incredibly isolated and even inwards looking so reminding them they are not alone and challenges can be overcome has real value.
Interests and Influence
We all need things in life we look forward to whether it’s seeing friends, indulging in hobbies, going on holiday, reading or power watching a series on Netflix.
Making sure the young person in your life has interests to immerse themselves in really helps their sense of self. It’s something that’s uniquely their’s and something they can exert their fairly truncated will over.
Some hobbies also encourage socialising. Book clubs, table top gaming and sports (to name a few) all offer young people something they can invest their energies in and surround themselves with like-minded people.
Being able to influence a part of their life – when so much is decided for them – gives them a wider sense of independence. After all whilst parents or carers may afford them freedoms it’s almost always heavily caveated – curfews for example – so an interest allows them to be themselves amongst a group of peers in a very pure sense.
Allowing a young person to feel they have influence over their life helps to combat feelings of powerlessness and frustration. Including them in decision making processes, asking their opinion or giving them freedom over their finances through an allowance all contribute to them influencing their reality.
In truth this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how we can support young people who experience mental health issues or who are vulnerable to low mood. The more we value our young people, give them the opportunity to grow in the direction they need to and support them in doing so, the healthier their development will be.
Whilst life is a very linear existence the path we take is long and winding so just because the individual has chosen one route doesn’t mean they can’t change later in life. It’s important to let young people develop in the way they need to at this moment in time.
Encompass Dorset supports adults with enduring mental health issues. If you are concerned about a young person and believe they’re in need of support, visit our sign posting page or contact us to speak to one of the team for advice.