When a person,of any age, is struggling with mental health issues they may prefer to keep it private, anticipating that it could be regarded as a sign of weakness, potentially threatening their future choices, friendships and quality of life. They may adopt a stiff upper lip, not wanting to disclose how vulnerable or fragile they’re actually feeling. However, this approach rarely improves anything and bottling things up can sometimes cause problems to escalate.
Until we’re affected or lose someone close we rarely have any idea of the staggering statistics around mental health, stress and suicide. Every 40 seconds someone in the world dies by suicide and it’s still the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK! We’ve recently had some significant diary reminders; Grief Awareness Day, World Suicide Prevention Day, the anniversary of the Twin Towers, World Mental Health Day, all days that remind us of life’s fragility and the importance of supporting each other.
There are ways we help both ourselves and others to live a more ‘in touch’ life. Let’s start by considering young people, who often have so much going on in their lives. Fear of missing out is often a factor, as friends post on social media images of their busy, amazing lives. Little matter that those images are posed, edited and displayed for public consumption. A young person may simply see their friends as being happier, more popular and successful than them.
They may be in a circle where they’re being bullied, feel inferior, ostracised, different. They may be struggling with their sexuality, identity, concerned about what their future choices and options could be. If they’re unfavourably comparing themselves to other family members it can be tough if they’re feeling a failure and don’t want to be a disappointment.
Some bad behaviour may be part of the job description for being a teenager, but nonetheless, it’s important to keep in touch with their lives.
– Pay attention. Is the young person behaving differently, is there a change in their attitude? Have they become angry, moody, silent, are they going out less often, spending more time in their room? Sometimes young people don’t want to worry, upset or disappoint their nearest and dearest. But that can further add to their stress levels as they fight to cope and stay strong.
– Try to regularly sit and eat together so the family bond is reinforced. Also it provides the opportunity to notice if something is ‘off’, if their appetite has changed, if they’ve become withdrawn or unhappy.
– Treat each as an individual and do things separately rather than always with ‘the kids’. Respect their uniqueness. That way you support them in developing and becoming their own person.
– Teach them to practise gratitude. Cultivate the habit of being thankful for a least 3 things each day. Someone giving them a compliment, the fact that there’s running water, they’ve food on the table can be a start.
– Ensure there are opportunities for ‘light’ conversations, rather than sit down, more formal ones. Chatting whilst you’re cooking or driving can good times for, ‘you seem a little quieter recently’, type conversations. A casual talk can be more beneficial than a full-on interview and allow them to discuss what’s on their minds.
– Provide space for them to speak with freedom. It can be tempting to finish their sentences or second-guess what they’re thinking, but even companionable silence can sometimes be fine when it allows time for reflection and processing what’s happening internally.
– Praise them for the things they do well and include some of those activities in family time so they receive regular confidence boosts. It’s good to let them share their enthusiasm with the rest of the family.
– Remind them that failure’s okay. It’s important to test their limits and move out of their comfort zone. But doing so means risking failure, that not everything will be a win or work out as hoped, even after much effort and commitment. Failure can be part of the light and shade in life; learning to cope with setbacks and rejection teaches resilience. Getting up again is an important lesson for adult life.
– Encourage them to give back. Volunteering and focusing on something else, like an animal sanctuary or visiting an elderly neighbour can be ways to extend their world, learn empathy and see the bigger picture.
– Have a chat with their teacher to discuss how things are going at school or college. Has their behaviour changed, is there any cause for concern? Sometimes a red flag can be if your child suddenly immerses themselves in their work, so avoiding socialising and becoming detached from their previous friendship groups.
And don’t regard seeing your family doctor or therapist as a failure. Doing so can provide valuable guidance and be the first step on their road to recovery.