Children’s Mental Health Week – why it is so important to listen & learn…

The Duchess of Cambridge launching Children's Mental Health Week 2015

The Duchess of Cambridge launching Children’s Mental Health Week 2015

Here at The Terrace we nominate a charity each year, to which we make donations from funds raised at our events and open days. We also raise awareness – which in many cases is more important than money. For the charity we have supported for the past two years – the NSPCC – that is especially important as only now is society beginning to recognise how mental health issues are affecting children and young people in the UK, and how services should be tailored to their needs, rather than tagged on to adult care.

Late last week the ChildLine Review was published, showing that four out of ten children contacting the Helpline are doing so because of a mental health issue. Two thirds of online counselling sessions offered by the charity relate to self-harm, suicidal feelings, low self-esteem, unhappiness and other mental health concerns. You can read the full report here. It makes for reading that should be of interest to parents and professionals alike.

Yesterday the Duchess of Cambridge released a video to mark the beginning of the very first Children’s Mental Health week. Filmed at the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School in Kent, it highlights the issues many children face as they grow up in a society that is ever more pressurised and which can leave them vulnerable to depression, anxiety and self-harm. It calls for the better provision of early intervention to ensure children get the support they need as a matter of urgency, that being the very best way to make sure they move into adulthood with the resilience they need to cope. You can watch it on the BBC News website here.

Children’s Mental Health Week was launched by Place2Be, a wonderful charity that offers emotional support within schools. Their website offers some, frankly frightening. statistics:

  • 3 children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem
  • Half of those with lifetime mental health issues first experience symptoms by the age of 14
  • Depression and anxiety amongst teenagers have increased by 75% in the past 25 years

iStock_000022060638SmallBut it can also say that more than 80% of parents felt their children’s problems were better after receiving counselling, and research suggests that children are less likely to experience mental health problems in adulthood if they get this early support. Here at The Terrace we offer counselling for children and teenagers with three of our most experienced psychotherapists. Find out more here.

We have written about issues facing our children many times on this blog. Sexting, abuse, exam pressures, FGM, the use of police cells to incarcerate young people – it seems there are so many new things for adults to worry about as their youngsters grow up. But we know from the terrible cases relating to historic sexual abuse that dangers have always been there, and can be countered if children are encouraged to speak out about things that concern them and are listened to. Properly listened to and believed.

Children’s Mental Health Week is a great idea. Let’s hope we can continue the conversation, and support, all year round.

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So what is ’empty nest syndrome’? ‘let’s talk!’ on how to cope…

740_empty_nesters3It is that time of year again. Autumn, when many of our children fledge, leaving their homes to start a life apart from their parents at college or university. They will experience all sorts of new things; challenges aplenty and excitement, as well as the inevitable hangovers.

But what about the parents and carers they leave behind? Their lives go on, on the surface at least the same as before, but there will be something missing….

‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ can be defined as ‘feelings of depression, sadness, and even grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes.’ (Psychology Today). It is an inevitable step that we want our youngsters to take but that does not always help. For women, other life changes are often happening at the same time – the menopause can itself cause depression and feelings of loss so the lowering of mood is exacerbated and they may re-evaluate their relationship with a spouse or partner. Women are now likely to be working, rather than staying at home with a nurturing role, but that does not always help. Men are not immune, as they too feel a loss.  Even the knowledge that many young people return home for financial reasons doesn’t offer solace, as they come home changed, more independent and with the potential to cause greater friction in a household no longer run to suit their needs.

So is there anything we can do to avoid the grief at the gap the fledging of our children leaves in our lives? The answer is, of course, ‘yes’, but we must acknowledge first that it requires some effort from everyone involved. In this post we will look at how to make the step itself easier, and in the next post we will start looking forward and noticing how we can appreciate the benefits without losing that bond with our offspring.

Firstly, make the whole event something of an adventure. Acknowledge that the young person may be nervous and the parents worried, but that doesn’t mean the preparation can’t be fun. Shopping trips, preparing meals, washing, budgeting – all can involve the young person in those weeks up to the leaving date. There may not always be enthusiasm for the tasks, but having at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to look after themselves will help a child in the first weeks way and offer a crumb of comfort to a parent.

Then, if a child is unhappy at first, do not make it too easy to run home. This is a tough one, as secretly (and we have to admit this) many of us might be pleased to feel our child needs us again. But what they need is our support and encouragement, to know that they have our love; not the feeling that they needn’t try to manage for themselves. Home is always there for them, but not as a base to escape from responsibilities they have taken on.

kitThirdly, do have a strategy for keeping in touch. Mobile communication is so much easier now, and Skype allows us to keep in touch face to face. Arrange to chat once a week perhaps, with texts or emails as a stop-gap in between. If money allows, you can offer a decent Smart phone contract. Brief text chats can keep the emotion out of discussions and offer the opportunity just to send a quick tip to solve what might seem an insurmountable problem at the other end (the ‘Mum I put red pants in with my white t shirt’ call perhaps!)

Finally, recognise that you might feel teary and low, but if depression starts to affect your day-to-day living you should seek professional help, or at the very least open up to friends about how you are feeling. Similarly, you might also have to admit to feeling a little envy at the new opportunities opening up to your child, who may be posting lots of excited Facebook updates, making new mates and seemingly having the time of their lives away from home.

So next time, we will offer a few tips on how to make sure it is not only the kids who can take on a new stage in life and have a great time!

 

 

Dealing with exam stress – a guide for parents & teens

exam_stress-adviceThere are quite a number of websites that work to make exam time less stressful for the children and young people taking them.  BBC Radio 1 has a particularly good one. Late spring, a time of year that should be full of hope and enjoyment can become weeks of torture as school exams, GCSEs and A Levels, as well as University exams, pile on the anxiety. If your family is host to a beleaguered exam sitter, then our own Sue-Claire at Counselling for Clarity sent the following invaluable tips for them:

– Keep communicating/talking with peer group/friends/family, don’t keep all your worries inside.
– Find a creative outlet in between revision. Shake out, walk,dance, paint, write, play or listen to music
– Try not to compare yourself with others. You are unique. Remember what people like about you as a starting point for your confidence
– Group revision/online discussion/audio tapes/revision cards really do help. You are not alone

But this post is by way of offering support to the family and friends best able to help those taking exams. Over the past week we have offered exam tips on our Facebook page. Today we thought we would post a digest of those suggestions, along with some more, to see you through the weekend and beyond.

1.) For those of you who are getting embattled, try to reduce the pressure.You can do this by first reducing the pressure in yourself.  Take a moment to think about how you are coming across. Do you feel tight and focused on ‘getting the job done’ rather than thinking about how your child is responding? If you are – don’t worry!  Most of us do this naturally.

2.) To approach things differently, stop and reflect and change how you are being with yourself and with your child/ren. Soften your attitude, change your tone and then ask your child/ren – how is this going for them? How do they feel about their revision programme and would they like any help?  If so, what help would they like? This is ALL focused on them and not on how you would do it.

3.) If you are finding that your child is getting too focused, talk to them about it – distraction can be positive. Offer a trip to the cinema; encourage fresh air and exercise daily; bake a cake. There should be a pulse to working and taking time out. So – talk about coming and going. Remember striving too hard for perfection can create an over-anxious child – which in turn can work against them in the exam.

4.) Suggest to your child that after an exam, whether it has gone well or not – they don’t talk about it in detail to their peers. It can cause unnecessary worry. They should just say ‘it was OK’ and leave it at that. relax

5.) Remember, that after a period of tension we all have a period of transition when we do not really know what to do with ourselves . This is a time when people of any age are vulnerable to getting drunk and behaving in ways they would not otherwise consider appropriate. So make sure everyone has some time to unwind. A day away can be a tonic, so just do something different.

We really hope these help. It is never an easy time, but we can minimise the stress and anxiety exams impose on us. Good luck!

 

 

 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): It is, simply, child abuse.

Female-circumcision-006On the 14th March The Guardian reported that for the first time a doctor will stand trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM).  13-year-old Sohair al-Bata’a died following an alleged operation in his clinic last year. FGM has been banned in Egypt since 2008 but may doctors still carry out the operation on a private basis, as parents see it as an acceptable ‘rite of passage’ for their daughters.

How much do you know about FGM?  The work of charities and the government is raising awareness, but it is still a practice that remains safely hidden in many local communities. Female genital mutilation  is actually  a form of child abuse which damages girls and women, both physically and mentally by using a procedure  which The World Health Organization (WHO) describes as one that involves ‘ partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’ (WHO, 2013). Communities practising FGM cite  reasons for its use such as social acceptance, family honour, marriageability or even the mistaken belief that it makes childbirth easier.  However, even a brief reading of the research undertaken on the subject tells of the short term  risk of shock, bleeding, infections and damage to nearby organs; as well as the possibility of death. Longer term effects  include very painful sex, abscesses, complications in pregnancy and, contrary to cultural belief, a greater risk of childbirth dangerous to mother and child. Psychological damage is common; in one study 80% of women  who had undergone and FGM procedure suffered from depression or anxiety disorders.

In Britain it is a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act to ‘perform FGM or to assist a girl to perform FGM on herself’. It can incur a maximum prison term of fourteen years, but prosecution seems low in comparison to the potential numbers of girls and women involved.  Most families do not see FGM as abuse and might accuse anyone intervening of being discriminatory. We must not shirk our responsibilities towards these girls.

We support the charity NSPCC both locally in the South West and nationally, in its campaign to stop this barbaric practice. The technique is  ‘traditionally carried out by a female with no medical training, without anaesthetics or antiseptic treatments, using knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades’ (NHS Choices 2013). The girl is sometimes forcibly restrained, held down even by a parent. FGM is usually carried out on girls between infancy and age 15, but the majority of cases occur between the ages of 5 and 8 years. Can you imagine the distress that must cause? Research has identified that tens of thousands of women in Britain live with the debilitating consequences of FGM and more than 20,000 young girls may be at risk. The crime is hidden, so figures are hard to establish, but these numbers may very well be much higher.

Communities in more than 28 African countries practise FGM, along with countries in the Middle East and Asia. The NHS has found that particular cities in the UK have more incidences of FGM, including London, Cardiff, Manchester, Sheffield, Northampton, Birmingham, and Oxford. But nowhere is immune.

The NSPCC has established a free 24-hour FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or its email at  fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk should you or someone you know be concerned that a child be at risk of FGM. After seven months the helpline had already received more than 150 calls.

forwardIf you would like to know more about FGM, go to the World Health Organisation website for full details,  or take a look at the wonderful Forward ( Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) site. It makes horrifying reading. It is too late for Sohair al-Bata’a, but not for the thousands of girls at risk in this country. Whether we are parents or not we owe it to them to ensure this abuse is ended.

‘Sexting’ – how we must make sure young people know how to ‘Zipit’…

7841-Sexting234x346Here at The Terrace we are keen to promote charities that work to support children and protect those that are vulnerable, or who find themselves in situations that could leave them open to abuse and exploitation. We support the NSPCC as our chosen charity and run regular events to raise money for them, maintaining close links with the representative of the charity in the South West.

But it seems that we, as a society can never do enough. Those who want to abuse or place young people in the way of danger seem to find new ways to avoid detection and social media offers endless opportunities to put pressure on those with access to the internet to behave in ways that are harmful.

In the coming weeks we will be highlighting areas of concern that have been mentioned in the press, or which are part of good safeguarding practice. If you are a parent, a professional working with young people, or a young person we hope these posts will make you think and offer ways of identifying possible abuse. They will also offer you ways to address the issue.

Today we focus on ‘sexting’ – which generally refers to the sending and receiving of texts including pictures of young people naked, in their underwear or in sexual positions. It also includes text messages or videos of a sexual nature. They might be sent from a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend or a stranger met online. Often it starts as an innocent conversation, but can rapidly go further than one party intended it to.

The charity Childline receives many calls from young people in deep distress  – images of them may have ‘gone viral’ at school or in their community, causing deep embarrassment at least, and at worst a wish to run away or even to commit suicide. Matters are now particularly acute, as a Childline survey showed that 6 out of 10 children own a smartphone, offering instant access to such pictures and messages.

Childline gives the example of one  17-year-old boy who told them sexting was “pretty normal” among his friends.

“My friends and I talk very openly about our experiences within our relationships, and the sort of things we’ve sent each other. It seems like everyone’s doing it…Someone saw a video message I had sent to a previous girlfriend, took a screen shot and posted it online. They called me a pervert and lots of people I knew saw it….I was completely devastated and, to be honest, almost suicidal.”

Isn’t it shocking that we allow such a thing to become a ‘normal’ experience for our children, many of whom are not yet teenagers?

Our nominated charity, the NSPCC, commissioned a report which was published as long ago as May 2012. Findings showed:

  • the primary technology-related threat comes from peers, not ‘stranger danger’
  • sexting is often coercive
  • girls are the most adversely affected
  • technology amplifies the problem by facilitating the objectification of girls
  • sexting reveals wider sexual pressures
  • ever younger children are affected
  • sexting practices are culturally specific

This indicates that where many parents protect their children effectively from ‘stranger danger’, they do not take sufficient account of peer pressure.

Zipit_bannerChildline has developed a phone app called ‘Zipit’ which offers the opportunity for a young person to send an appropriate response to any ‘sexting‘ they receive – a witty ‘killer comeback’ that gives them control. Essentially though, we need to ensure that schools take responsibility for education children and young people about the dangers of sending sexy images or messages using their phone. We also need to encourage them to check out the Childline website which has a terrific section on how to deal with a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. It is all about defusing the pressure that they feel coming at them from their peers.

So we must all make ourselves aware of the issue and recognise that we as adults are not always innocent in this area. Celebrities have been caught out tweeting images of themselves in compromising positions and something that we feel comfortable sending as a flirty message may feel very different when it is read at the other end of the ‘line’.

So take a look at all the great information on the websites of children’s charities. Awareness of these issues is a great start.

 

2014: On the New Year – resolutions, re-acting and relationships…

newyearHappy New Year and our best wishes to you for health and happiness in 2014.

There are many ways people support themselves towards health and happiness at the beginning of the year  – many of us start by making ‘New Year’s resolutions’.

That’s great – and it is an opportunity to see what you like about yourself and your life and to make decisions to improve the areas you would like to change.

Importantly, making New Year’s resolutions which are genuinely possible to achieve can create a feeling of well-being and increased self-esteem. It’s good to consider, carefully in the cold light of your life,  the decisions you have made to see if they are realistic, and if the time scale is actually possible. Re-negotiating a resolution could make all the difference to achieving it. That is a success, and puts you in charge of the decision you have made.

You might also need support or a ‘buddy’ to help you achieve what you want; making it public and sharing an aim can be more fun and you can enjoy the process too!

Enjoying the process is really fundamental to the continued success of what you want to achieve. It is one thing to make a change, but to feel good and substantial about that change is long-lasting and makes you feel good about yourself.

Couple with counsellorWe also have to consider whether, for those relationship changes that are important, having as ‘D-Day’ that one day at the beginning of January is a good thing. Often people find they are reassessing their lives after major celebrations or life events – Christmas, birthday, a bereavement or redundancy for example – and although these are important moments, they are also times to meditate on, and take time with, a decision. Taking that time and making space for contemplation may make for a better long-term result than the initial ‘re-acting’.

So if you are considering ending a relationship, take time to understand what that really means. Talk about it with your partner (if that is possible) so that when you come to your final decision it is well-considered, thought through and processed. At this point it can be beneficial to include professional counselling. When people do this the outcome is genuinely better emotional and mental health for themselves and for their family.

This Christmas and New Year had a particular spirit which seemed softer, and I keep hearing people talk about feeling good about 2014. My best wishes to you for yours.

Jane Gotto

Teenage Depression – a blog for the Blurt Foundation

blurtThis post was originally published on the website of the wonderful Blurt Foundation last week. Jane was pleased to be asked to contribute to their blog, which offers people experiencing depression and anxiety the opportunity to tell their story and share experiences. The whole website offers factsheets and support in a friendly and accessible way. Do take a look. If you have anything to share Blurt would like to hear from you!

Have we learnt nothing?  In one way lots has changed since I was a teenager 40 years ago, but I am disheartened that really, despite lots more research and information, we are re-creating the same old, same old – pressurising teenagers to be ‘who we want them to be’, with a constant stream of examinations – where they have to perform on a yearly basis, within narrow and repetitive fields.  The proportion of young people aged 15-16 being diagnosed with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999 – these figures are depressing.

How can we expect to grow our young into rounded and creative human beings when we are constantly squeezing them into our system?  My own experience was as a teenager in the 70’s and the more pressure applied to me created a corresponding amount of anxiety, followed by me suppressing these anxious feelings  – numbing out and feeling depressed.  I was – mostly – a good natured young adult wishing to do my best.  That ‘doing my best’ however created a miserable inner life for me, where I felt very deadened and detached – and of course angry about that!

During the last decade I have been interested  by the culture of ‘como drinking’ realising that drinking may be this generations way of responding to the pressure we are putting them under.   The cycle of our pressurising performing culture creating a default psychology of their need to let go – literally through alcohol by becoming paralytic.   We create the pressure and this is the letting off of their steam – cause and effect – simple really…

Back in the 70’s I found a gem in meditation – I was lucky.   I, seemingly out of nowhere, asked for a 16th birthday present of a course in meditation.  I suffered the teasing from family and friends and sticking to my wish I completed the course, which helped me manage my anxiety and gave me some freedom in my life.   I did no longer need to measure everything in order to manage my level of anxiety.

More importantly, and very exciting it was, I learnt there was something inside me.  I was amazed to find I had an inner experience of myself, and in connecting to myself I felt softer and reassured that I did exist – literally I was a person too!

Was this an experience I could talk about – not really.  However I had had a taste of what it was to be able to have an experience where I listened to myself, and that I existed and mattered.  That was to be repeated when I went into counselling in my early 30’s and I thought bingo, I know this feeling and I like it.   I was listened to in a way that supported me and the counsellor heard, and acknowledged, my experience and my feelings.  This seems very simple and it’s what we need to be doing for our young people.

This brings me back to today – how are we creating this for our young people – supporting them to be themselves, to listen to their passion and be acknowledged and responded to.

Do we stop and think “Maybe it’s not them” – maybe it’s us creating an anxious environment for our young people.  We may be creating a world that is ‘progressive’ but until we learn to be more people centred and respond on a human level to each person, and young person , as an individual we are not using the information we have to provide our young with the best possible start.

Let’s start listening and acknowledging our young people and allow them to express themselves as unique individuals, say who they are, and allow and listen to their feelings.  That would be a good start to reducing anxiety and depression, and taking responsibility that we are part of the problem.

Jane is the founder of The Terrace which is Taunton’s leading therapy centre. If you’d like more information about their work, please visit their website here –> http://www.theterrace.co.uk