Teenage time-bomb: Why are our teens struggling with their mental health?

The Terrace head in handsIt has always been tough to be a teenager – it is a rite of passage; a period when wanting to be treated as an adult combines with the vulnerabilities of childhood to make an often confusing mix of emotions. But are 21st century pressures increasing the risks of long-term health issues?

News today suggests that a Department of Education survey of pupils  aged 14 and 15 has found that more than one in three of the teenage girls report symptoms of anxiety and depression. This equates to a rise of 10% over the past ten years and as such is clearly a major concern for parents, educators and society as a whole.

Girls reported  considerably higher levels of psychological distress than the boys – 37% having three or more symptoms compared to just 15%, and in boys the percentage has fallen since 2005.

The Daily Telegraph quotes Nick Harrop, of charity YoungMinds, who believes it has much to do with the way in which 21st century life impacts on young women:

“Teenage girls today face a huge range of pressures. Stress at school, body image worries, early sexualisation, bullying on and offline and uncertainty about the future after school are all piling on the stress,” he tells me. “Social media also puts pressure on girls to live their lives in the public domain, to present a personal ‘brand’ from a young age, and to seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares.”

Certainly, the rise of Instagram, Snapchat and the other image based social media channels has created more ways to challenge a girl’s image of herself compared to her peers, and sadly, to the photoshopped images of models and celebrites. Girls report issues with eating, with concentration and with anxiety, as they are constantly made aware of the importance of appearance in the media. Too little emphasis seems to be put on successful career women, perhaps, rather than those who model or walk the red carpet.

But others, such as former mental health tsar  Natasha Devon  think it is more to do with the kind of lives young people have to lead now, as parents work longer hours and success in life appears driven by higher salaries and working harder than ever to buy  those things, such as a home, that previous generations took for granted. In addition, all those subjects that supported good mental health are squeezed in the recent changes to the curriculum – music, art, sports and drama often provided a balance to the more academic subjects in which a young person felt more pressurised. Interestingly, those from a more affluent background were more likely to feel worried about achieving less than their parents hoped for them.

But Natasha Devon thinks the only difference between the sexes is how they deal with their mental health problems. She is quoted as saying:

“At an adult level, women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which makes them look like primarily female issues. But men are more likely to seek help for substance abuse and are far more likely to take their own lives. It suggests to me women seek help for anxiety and depression but men self-medicate and tend to wait before they reach crisis point.”

This tends to suggest that where girls might be more ready to seek help, in the longer term it is boys who need greater support.

So what can be done? Here at The Terrace we have a number of therapists skilled in working with children and young adults, and we know how complex an issue this is. A good place to start would be in schools, where changes in behaviour can be noticed early and elements put in place during the school day to support self-confidence and self-esteem.

What do you think would be a good first step?  We would love to hear your views on what could be a proverbial ‘time bomb’, as a generation struggles to come to terms with the every-increasing and pressurised pace of 21st century life.

Well-being for students – University isn’t all party, party, party…

images (6)We have recently reposted our piece about ‘empty-nesting’ and the anxiety of parents as their children head off to University and college for the first time. This time of year can be tough for the whole family, and it is important for everyone to acknowledge the emotional and physical stress involved in this new phase of family life.

So – today we focus on those young people taking what might be their first steps to independence. Along with the natural excitement of organising accommodation, buying any equipment and books necessary and packing carefully, there is also a natural level of anxiety – it is the body’s natural reaction to the anticipation of the unknown.Will I like my course? Will I make friends? Will I have enough money? It may not feel like it but everyone has these concerns, even the most confident prospective student. It is a time when you need to take your mate’s bravado with a pinch of salt – inside they will have their own worries, guaranteed.

But sometimes anxiety can become overwhelming. You may find you have work to do before you even start your course. There will be the expectations of parents and teachers and of course, the importance of your course to your future hopes and ambitions. This is the time to notice your body, and any physical symptoms that you may experience that can be attributed to this anxiety. You may not even see them coming, as they gradually creep up on you.

  • You may be less able to sleep…
  • You may lose your appetite…
  • You may feel tired and drained…
  • You could be irritable and prone to mood swings…

Sometimes these symptoms can actually affect your life on a day-to-day basis. Panic attacks, when you feel you can’t breathe, that your heart is pounding, that you will be sick and that you need to run, or are rooted to the spot  can stop you doing those things you would normally enjoy for fear of breaking down in front of friends, or being unable to cope in stressful situations.

First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself – moving home for anyone is difficult and for you it will mean new town, new people, and new responsibilities. If you find anxiety levels rising try to remember that they won’t last forever – as you settle in to your new life the initial worries will fade to the background. Day-to-day worries will come and go, that is life. But if you can maintain some control over your life – especially when it comes to things like money, alcohol, getting exercise and eating healthily – you will find things easier to cope with.

Secondly, remember to talk about how you are feeling. This isn’t always easy, but if you can open up you will find you are not alone and hiding your feelings can simply store up more trouble for later. There is always support available at University or college. Student Support, the local GP, your lecturers and tutors…they are all trained to watch out for signs that their students are experiencing difficulties. And of course your parents and family at home need to know how you really feel. Don’t be afraid to approach someone. The longer you leave it the more cut off and hopeless you might feel.

images (7)To find out more about anxiety, stress and depression see the NHS website HERE. If you are reluctant to take that first step, you can approach someone anonymously – there is help at the end of a telephone. Call Samaritans, or Mind for example. Non-judgemental, they will listen and support you. Alternatively there is a great service that has been set up specially to support students. It is called Nightline and if your University or college is linked up there will be someone to help you. See their website at http://nightline.ac.uk/ . They have a useful list of other contacts HERE.

Remember – this is an exciting time, one that can be the very best time of your life. But you need to take care of yourself and always be certain that there is someone who can help you if you are struggling.

Also, see The Terrace website for details of the skilled therapists who work with us to support young people and their families.

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.

NHS releases newly collected FGM figures – NSPCC ‘shocked’

fgmThe NSPCC is our nominated charity for 2014 and we have long sought to raise awareness of the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on this blog. So like the NSPCC we were shocked to hear the first NHS figures collected on the incidence of this barbaric practice, released yesterday.

John Cameron from the NSPCC said: “These are shocking figures and prove that FGM is very much a live public health issue. This NHS data shows just how vital it is that health professionals are trained to spot the signs of FGM so we can ensure that women and girls who are subjected to this brutal practice get the post-traumatic support they deserve.”

467 new cases of girls and women needing treatment after female genital mutilation in England were identified last month. Another 1,279 current cases were receiving treatment according to Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) figures.

We have always found it difficult to believe that although FGM has been illegal in Britain since 1985, no one has yet been convicted. More than half of the reported cases are in London, but all regions in England have seen cases reported.

The BBC reported Kingsley Manning, the chairman of the HSCIC, as saying: “Having accurate data about this crime is an important step in helping prevent its occurrence in the future.”

We know that up to 170,000 women and girls living in the UK may have undergone this procedure, and although earlier this year we reported that Prime Minister David Cameron had committed to ensuring  that any parents who allowed their daughters to go through the procedure would face prosecution, we have yet to hear of any cases coming to court.

To find out more about FGM and how to join the campaign against it, see the World Health Organisation site here

 

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!

 

 

Exam results: some quick tips to deal with the stress of results day & beyond

emoticons1Well today was the day for thousands of young people waiting for GCSE results, last week it was A and AS level results. Both can make or break ambitions for further education or training places. It can be a time of euphoria or despair and whatever the outcome it is important to take care of yourself, your friends and in a parent’s case, your children’s health and well-being.

Firstly, make sure you talk about your feelings, to friends, parents, carers. We have heard the tragic story of Robin Williams this week, an incredibly and naturally funny man who many never realised suffered terribly from the depression that caused him to take his own life. Lots of young people will not like to show their disappointment; will put on a brave face. If you know someone like this, encourage them to open up. It isn’t easy, but neither is it easy to admit you are struggling when those around you are celebrating your success. Just try to notice who may be missing….

If your results do not enable you to take your first choice place, consider your response carefully and know that this is a setback, not the end of the world. There are so many options available now and schools have counsellors available to help you through the maze of possibilities – one of which may not have previously occurred to you. Just because all your mates have gone to Uni it doesn’t mean you have to, but if you want to go through clearing don’t assume you won’t get onto a ‘good’ course. Many of the top universities still have places available, but don’t rush onto a course that may not be right for you. Perhaps an unplanned gap year will help you make a decision?

If you have done well and are planning a celebration, watch your alcohol intake. It may seem boring but at times like this people can make the wrong choices, placing themselves in danger just as their future seems so bright.

There are many other ways to help yourselves and those you care about and if you or anyone you know needs support go to www.youngminds.org.uk, www.mind.org.uk or  www.time-to-change.org.uk for example.

Take care of yourself. You have a long life ahead of you in which to achieve all manner of wonderful things. Whatever today has brought, it is just the beginning….

FGM summit: British PM calls for end ‘in this generation’

_76432219_female_mutilation_20142207_464As you may know, here at the Terrace we are keen to highlight the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and campaign for the banning of the practice, to save so many girls and young women from lifelong pain and enduring health issues.

So we were pleased to hear that Prime Minister David Cameron, talking at a global summit hosted by the UK and by UNICEF, called for FGM (and childhood marriage) to be ended within a generation. Now we need to see real action.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said:

“The fact that 30 million girls are at risk of being cut in the coming years clearly means that we have a big challenge on our hands….’ and  Priscilla Karim, who was forced to undergo FGM in Sierra Leone at the age of just 9, told the BBC of her ordeal:

“I felt the worst pain of my life and a heavy object sitting on my chest and I just passed out…..It’s like a taboo, they don’t tell you about it. You cannot tell anybody.”

The BBC News website reporting on the summit offers some vital facts and highlights the many issues facing young women at risk in the coming years if FGM continues. This is despite growing global calls for the eradication of the procedure and the news that, in Britain at least,  failure to report FGM (FGM  has been illegal here for a number of years) will in itself become a criminal offence. Do take a look and join us in calling for this child abuse (for that is what it is) to stop.