The pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone, but for many teenagers and young people already struggling with their self-esteem and where they fit in the world, the disruption and weirdness of the last 18 months has had serious mental health effects.
Research by the teenage mental health charity stem4 in March found nearly half of parents said their child was experiencing mental health difficulties – a third more than at the start of the pandemic.
And a further survey of 2,395 British teenagers by the Mental Health Foundation, carried out in December, found 32% said they’d had trouble with sleep most or nearly all the days of the previous fortnight, while 27% reported they had felt ‘nervous, anxious or on edge’ most or nearly all of the days in that time.
But now, at last, it’s time to move on, and the theme for this year’s Youth Mental Health Day (September 7) is #StrideForward, reflecting on how the last year or so has impacted young people’s lives, and encouraging them to identify personal goals to help them achieve a positive mindset in the post-pandemic world.
Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Nihara Krause, CEO of stem4, which organises Youth Mental Health Day (YMHD), says: “The pandemic has placed a huge strain on many children, young people, and their parents.
“Not only have young people experienced unprecedented stress through disrupted schooling, cancelled exams, inaccurately predicted exam results, university lockdowns and lockdowns, with the suspension of many in-person services, many have also been denied the professional mental health support they so desperately need.
“As we hopefully emerge from this period, it’s important not just for young people to understand positive mental health, and be able to work towards it, but for the entire family to come together to achieve it.”
Stem4 says parents can help young people get back on track mentally, and build confidence and positivity, by…
1. Helping them identify an achievable goal
When a young person has decided what they want to achieve, parents can help them break down the steps they need to take to achieve it.
“Support them as they work through the steps, and plan something to celebrate when they achieve their goal,” advises Krause.
2. Praising them
Parents need to remember to praise young people for trying, even if they don’t succeed. “Praise them for making an effort, rather than only praising change,” says Krause.
“The journey is just as important as the destination.”
3. Making time to talk
Making time to talk with your young person should be a priority, says Krause, who advises parents to set regular times to simply listen to them. “Persist even if they reject you,” she says, “but find a way that works for you. For example, if your young person doesn’t like to talk, perhaps have them write down the things they’re feeling.”
4. Never dismissing what they’re feeling
Stem4 says parents should be careful not to minimise any of the problems their young person might be facing. “For example,” says Krause, “avoid saying ‘it’s no big deal’, ‘we all feel low’, or ‘there’s nothing to worry about’. Try to understand and support your young person, rather than dismissing them.”
5. Providing them with positive self-talk strategies
What this means is, for example, giving them a phrase they can repeat to themselves like ‘I’m going to face the things I’m scared of, and I’ll feel better afterwards’.
6. Breathing together
Krause advises parents and teens practise controlled breathing together, “so they’re ready to use it whenever they feel anxious, or in a high-pressure situation.” You can look up controlled breathing exercises on the net, or simply breathe in for a count of five, hold for a count of two, and then breathe out for a count of seven.