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Young and carefree? Not necessarily so…

It is estimated that around one in ten young people between the ages of five and sixteen are diagnosed with some form of mental health concern every year[1]. Seventy-five per cent of mental illnesses are thought to manifest themselves before the age of 25[2]. The Covid-19 lockdowns exacerbated the situation dramatically, with many young people finding it hard to adapt to studying at home, missing friends and not being able to go out and about as they please. The pandemic caused other problems for children and their families too, around keeping and interacting with others, developing anxieties over health, returning to the outside world and worrying about older or vulnerable relatives. As life returns to normal, many organisations are committing significant levels of funding and support to help the younger generation catch up where lockdowns have interrupted their personal or emotional development. They aim to teach children how to nurture their own feelings of self-worth, build resilience and cope with challenges that lie ahead, such as exams, puberty and relationships. Not to mention supporting their general health and wellbeing. A few examples of useful organisations and resources are listed at the end of this article for anyone seeking additional support.

Exam stress

The 2022 schedule of GCSEs, A-levels and university and college exams is well underway by now. Some fortunate young people will have got into the swing of their exams and worked out a system to help them revise, remember when their assessments are and work to the best of their ability when they enter the exam room. However, for many others and their families, the whole experience will have been far more daunting. Concerns such as anxiety over learning course content, memory or concentration issues, personal problems elsewhere in their lives and struggles with mental health can all put barriers in the way of being able to complete exams effectively. As can feeling that their parents or care givers are placing too many expectations on them – make sure they know that you will love and support them, regardless of what their final results turn out to be. If the issues above sound familiar, there is plenty of support available for young people facing exam stress. Speak to their teacher or GP to begin with. There are lots of options out there, from specialist counsellors and medical experts to online study tips, advice for revision techniques[3], nutritional information and ways to ensure a decent night’s sleep. Take their concerns seriously and act on them straight away to give them (and you) enough time to react and sort out any worries or concerns in time for them to focus on their exams and get them done. Finally, make sure you plan something amazing for when the exams are over to celebrate their achievements getting through them all in one piece.

Friendships and romance

Tweens and teenagers reach the stage in life when their friends start to take on as much importance, if not more, than their family. Peer approval is vital, as is the feeling of belonging to a ‘tribe’ of like-minded people. As children move up from primary to secondary school, this change can present exciting opportunities to meet new people and develop close friendships that can last well into adulthood. However, it can also be a time when anxieties develop and mental health is affected if friendships do not develop as expected, or there are hitches to be negotiated along the way. The same goes for young, budding romances, which often start to come into play in secondary education. Feelings can become intense quickly, so it is very important that young people feel supported at this exciting, yet also confusing time. Make sure your young people know that you are there for them to discuss their concerns, hopes and updates around friendships and first romances. Try to avoid judging or making comments that could be misconstrued. Never belittle concerns over friendships, as they can seem very real and worrying to a young person facing all sorts of difficult issues at once. What could sound like a small spat could be a symptom of a bigger problem or even the start of a bullying campaign. We all need a support network and it is important for young people to work out how to create their own as soon as possible. Help them find their ‘people’ by encouraging them to join clubs, arrange meet-ups or invite friends round. Watch out for signs of bullying or unhealthy relationships and let the school know of any serious concerns. Show them resources that might help, such as appropriate social media platforms to help them connect online and websites of organisations that can help them build confidence, stand up to bullying and strengthen social skills.

Social media

Social media can be a wonderful way for young people to keep in touch with friends, follow brands and celebrities they admire, share photos and keep up with the latest viral trends. However, there is a dark side to it that can seriously impact on young people’s mental health. Instant, 24/7 access to each other means that young people cannot get away from any problems that have developed among friends during the school day. The instant nature of social medic can also make people worry if their messages are not responded too straight away, or the reply they receive is ambiguous or negative. Misunderstandings can blow up into full-scale, online slanging matches. Trolling is much easier to do, too, from behind an anonymising keyboard or microphone. The good news in all of this is that there is lots that can be done to protect the mental health of young people keen to connect online. Monitoring their activity until a mutually agreed age helps tweens and younger teens learn how to navigate the online world. Showing them positive accounts as examples of how to use social media correctly works too, as does modelling good behaviour yourself.

Body image

Platforms like YouTube or Insta allow users to present fake, polished lives that can seem impossible to live up to. Yet, photos can be edited to remove perceived blemishes and videos don’t always tell the full story. It is vital that young people are taught to see this for themselves to stop them feeling envious, anxious or lacking in self-worth from comparing themselves to unobtainable, falsified ideals online. Again, one key aspect to helping young people develop a good body image is to model positive attitudes in front of them. Try not to discuss worries about your own weight or appearance in front of them. Encourage healthy hobbies and interests, such as sports, fitness, nutritious eating and getting out into the open air as much as possible.

Eating disorders

Closely linked to issues with body image are eating disorders and anxieties around food, weight and calorie intake. Around 1.25 million people in the UK live with an eating disorder of some kind[4]. This can cause serious harm, mentally, emotionally and especially physically, as the body is deprived of the essential nutrient it needs to thrive and continue healthy development. When it comes to eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, early diagnosis and treatment are key to prevent them from becoming severe. Signs to look out for that a young person is struggling with an eating disorder include[5] an increased interest in – or even obsession with – food and calorie intake, low confidence and/or self-esteem, irritability and mood swings, loss of weight, fatigue, withdrawal from social situations, loss of focus or concentration. Seek professional medical advice straight away if you suspect that someone is becoming affected by an eating disorder.

Where to seek help

If you are a young person yourself, or are closely involved with children and/or teenagers, there are some excellent resources online that can help you navigate issues related to this complex, yet exciting stage of life. It is always good to get an appointment with your GP in the first instance to rule out any physical or health-related causes. You can reach out to counselors and talking therapies as well as local charities that work with specific issues using the HUB of HOPE. Pop in your postcode and your local services are listed.  If you have mental health first aiders in your business you can reach out to them for support, and also any Employee Assistance Programme can provide support for you and your immediate family. So do check out your employee benefits package to see if you have access to an EAP. In a crisis, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 or if texting is easier then contact SHOUT on 85258 To Find out more about Mental Health First Aid training then get in contact with me and I would love to discuss what is available to you and your organisation. You can get my contact details here:  https://www.gayleyoung.co.uk/contact/ [1] Source: https://nipinthebud.org/child-mental-health-conditions/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI–Wo3Z6v-AIVEbrtCh0ayQFGEAAYAiAAEgLQ2vD_BwE. Accessed 15 June 2022 [2] e: https://nipinthebud.org/child-mental-health-conditions/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI–Wo3Z6v-AIVEbrtCh0ayQFGEAAYAiAAEgLQ2vD_BwE. Accessed 15 June 2022 [3] Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zw8qpbk. Accessed 15 June 2022 [4] Source: https://nipinthebud.org/child-mental-health-conditions/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI–Wo3Z6v-AIVEbrtCh0ayQFGEAAYAiAAEgLQ2vD_BwE. Accessed 15 June 2022 [5] Source: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/get-information-and-support/about-eating-disorders/do-i-have-an-eating-disorder/. Accessed 15 June 2022

Post Author: Gayle Young