Living with a mental health issue is a challenge. While the rest of the world carries on like business as usual the individual can be wrestling with feelings of loneliness, low self-worth, severe anxiety or a host of other feelings specific to their issues.
The hustle and bustle of everyday life can make it easy for those with mental health issues to feel forgotten about. But what if you’re a child or young person in an environment where everyone around you seems to be perfectly happy, engaging with their schooling or their friends?
Ten out of every one hundred children and young people experience mental health issues but only three of them will get the support they need.
Mental health issues in young people are on the rise and we explore some of the reasons why.
The World Changed
One of the great constants in life is change but we never could have predicted how fast and how constant that change would be once the computer revolution hit in the 60s and 70s.
Computers have gone from databanks that occupied entire rooms to something that can fit in our pockets. That level of convenience has brought with it accessibility. We have access to copious amounts of information at the tap of a screen.
It’s constant, it’s tailored and it’s unrelenting. It’s also unfiltered.
Young people today are expressing more anxiety about world events than at any other time since World War 2 or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Except, thanks to a 24 hours news cycle and a US President who gets a little Tweet happy, those anxieties sit by the bed, vibrating urgently.
There has never been a generation of young people more informed and yet never more powerless to influence change. A damning indictment of the generations before them, certainly, but without proper support at home and at school, young people’s anxieties will only get worse.
We Became Bitchy
Social media was seen as the advent of a new age in communication and in a great many ways it was and to this day hundreds of millions of people rely on it to communicate and share things with the people in their lives.
However, what it also allowed us to do was bully people without ever seeing our victim’s faces, without ever being caught by the teacher and has the freedom to strike at any time of the day or there was no respite or safe haven.
Although the law is starting to change to keep up with the evolving nature of abuse, many young people continue to cite social media as a major source of unhappiness – especially with regard to their appearance. This is either the result of being bombarded by unrealistic examples or beauty or being abused about their appearance by online trolls.
As a result a study released last year shows instances of self-harm have risen 68% in girls and 26% in boys.
We Were Unprepared
As parents or carers it’s impossible to get it right all the time.
If the world is moving too fast for today’s young people then we have as about as much chance as they do to keep up.
Except the difference is they are looking to us for protection and guidance in a world that is probably the most unstable it’s ever been without a major conflict being fought.
We naturally assume our children are robust to change because we weathered the storm and seemed to come out of it okay. Except when you consider that one in four adults have mental health issues and half of those were established by the age of 14, we didn’t. At all.
So what can we do to ensure that our young people are able to live the childhoods we want them to experience whilst still benefitting from the positives being part of a global community brings?
Without this most basic step you will never truly find out what is going on in your child’s life.
It is all too easy to play down the fears and anxieties of our children as trivial or petty. They may well be compared to the challenges of adult life but they are yet to experience the pressures of making ends meet and – honestly – would you really want them to?
The less frequently you validate your child’s feelings, opinions and worries the less often they will come to you with them. Trust breaks down and you’ll one day wonder what happened to the once great relationship you had with your children.
If your child has developed a mental health issue then they need support. Look beyond pride, any sense of failure or what the neighbours will say and give them what they need – your love.
Once you’ve learned what the problem is ask them what they would like done about it. There may not be an obvious or immediate answer but there will be one in the background and it will come to the surface given enough time and encouragement.
Once you’ve learned what steps your child wants to take to deal with their challenges you’re in a much better position to help them.
Don’t worry about your child getting a diagnosis and what that could do to their future careers prospects. It’s not how the world works any more. Even if it did, what use is hiding you child’s challenges as it will only hurt them.
3. Take Action
Although woefully under-funded, there are adolescent mental health services available. Schools often have their own counselling service which can offer initial support. There are also private services if those are an option for you financially.
It’s also important to address any issues of bullying within the school as quickly and as constructively as possible.
Schools are wrestling with the new virtual battleground as much as parents but most have a pretty no-nonsense stance when it comes to bullying wherever it’s happening.
It’s worth familiarising yourself with online abuse legislation and the schools bullying policy before any meetings just so you’re fully aware of your position.
Shouting will not win you points with anyone.
Finally, remind your child how much you love them, that what they’re going through isn’t their fault, that they are not broken, less than or a disappointment. Every child is inexplicably terrified of letting their parents down so anything you can do to remind of that impossibility is always a good thing.
By the same measure, don’t beat yourself up either. There’s always something we could have done differently as parents but it doesn’t mean that your child’s challenges are your fault. It’s far more useful to focus on positive changes rather than the unchangeable past.
Encompass Dorset supports individuals with enduring mental health issues. If you or someone you know could benefit from our help, contact us today.