Talking about mental health

Mental health is a subject that has become even more topical over the past month as globally, we continue to deal with the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic throws us, especially with many countries enforcing strict lockdown rules.

Our Sales & Marketing Director Ben has been giving this some thought and reached our good friend and previous colleague Hannah, who now works as a Mental Health First Aid Trainer.

Here Hannah has shared her thoughts and provided some helpful tips to guide young children and teens through these uncertain times…

“We all have mental health. Just like we have physical health.

Our mental health is defined by how we think, feel and behave, our self-esteem, self-confidence, how we see ourselves and our future, how we deal with negative life events and how we ride the ups and downs of everyday life. Our mental health is fluid in the same way that our physical health is. We take steps to look after it; even if we don’t realise that is what we are doing. We also do things to the detriment of our mental health and if we are honest, we probably know what those things are.

Seven weeks ago, we knew that the COVID-19 virus was spreading across the globe and it was inevitable that our lives were going to be impacted. However, most of us could not have imagined the extent of the impact that has been felt physically, mentally, financially, and in ways that we could not have anticipated nor have ever prepared for.

As adults it is difficult to comprehend the changes and uncertainty we are facing. We pull on our skills and resources, our past experiences and our support networks to create a new sense of purpose and to maintain a balance of wellbeing.

But what about the impact this is also having on our young people?
They may not be gaining their knowledge and understanding about the virus from trusted sources, they may be picking up on new stresses within their home environment, they may be experiencing grief for the first time in their young lives and they may be feeling fear of the unknown. They may be missing the structure of school, be anxious about the impact on their exam grades and be deeply disappointed that milestone life events such as proms and examinations have been cancelled.

It is also important to remember that for some of our young people (and of course adults) this period of time of social isolation has provided a relief from pressures of everyday life or anxiety linked with social interactions for example. I have a teenage daughter who is very disappointed to be away from her friends, her school and her hobbies and another daughter who feels safer being at home and is enjoying being constantly surrounded by her family. For her and for many other children and adults the transition back into the ‘normal’ routine may be the time that their mental health declines and we should remain aware of this.

Many people are fortunate to have good mental health, only occasionally experiencing times when it becomes low, often brought on by an acute life event or a period of stress. A person’s coping strategies and support networks will enable them to improve their wellbeing and get through these times of sadness, anxiety and stress. For others, changes in their thinking, emotions and behaviour may be longer lasting and more impactful and meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness such as clinical depression or an anxiety disorder. But with treatment and support recovery from mental illness is not only possible but likely. There is always hope, there is always help.

So how do we keep ourselves mentally healthy during this time? And where do we go for support?
It goes without saying that if we are worried about ourselves or our loved one’s physical health, we would dial an emergency service and we would expect those around us to show care and compassion. Therefore, if we are worried about our mental health or the mental health of others around us, we should seek out support in just the same way.

For parents concerned about their child/teenager, there are many places to go for support including YoungMinds, NSPCC and Charlie Waller Memorial Trust (CWMT). CWMT also link to other trusted sources of information; NHS, WHO and Gov.uk. Childmind.org is another very useful website and offers parents a wealth of support in this difficult time.

For younger children there is a brilliant book illustrated by Axel Scheffler that explains the virus, answering questions about quarantine, how you can catch the virus and what happens if you become unwell. The book is free to download, the publishers have only asked people consider a donation to the NHS.

Remember when supporting your child/teen that being aware of your own mental health is very important as they will pick up on your anxieties. We need to show kindness to ourselves, keeping yourself mentally well. You can find some great information looking at ‘The Five Ways to Wellbeing’ and the ‘Ten Keys to Happier Living’.

Honesty and kindness in a calm environment are important to our young people. Give them your full attention, away from distractions and provide the opportunity to talk and be listened to, non-judgementally. Remember that their fears are very real to them and the way we respond to them will impact on how open they are with us and therefore what support we are able to offer them. They may come to you first but if you want to approach them about how they are coping, think about the timing of your approach and what you want to say.

Help them to recognise what their coping strategies are such as having a routine, keeping in touch with friends, getting some exercise and time away from screens, eating well and getting the right amount of sleep. Help them to also recognise their unhelpful coping strategies, what they are doing that might help them to mask their stress or anxieties but that actually make things worse. What makes them happy, what new things could they try out within the limitations of the current situation?

We know that this time of uncertainty will pass and that our homes and communities will slowly begin a new chapter. What is certain for now is that people will benefit greatly from kindness, empathy and compassion and we are seeing this in abundance across the world.”

What brilliant words from Hannah – thank you!

If you or someone you know is in need of support at this difficult time, the NHS have put together a list of trusted helplines for problems including depression, anxiety, debt, domestic abuse, suicide, gambling and drug and alcohol abuse and many more. These helplines are there to offer non-judgemental information, advice and a listening ear. Many charities such as the Samaritans also offer confidential support via email jo@samaritans.org