The 4th February was ‘Time to Talk’ day. It seems strange at a time when the mobile phone is almost everyone’s accessory that we need to be reminded to talk. And yet of course, what’s been referred to here, is the good old-fashioned way of talking, using words, face to face, expressing our thoughts, our emotions, our intentions, of being listened to and of being heard. Do we really need to talk or has our speedy modern communication through social media, through text and email surpassed what can only be but seen by some as a time consuming and sometimes painful process, especially if talking isn’t practiced or words are not your forte?
Robert Frost in his poem ‘Time to Talk’ says
‘When a friend calls me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I hadn’t hoed,..’
Talking is probably one of the most under rated human abilities and the most often practiced one. Mothers talk to their babies from the time they are born (and even when they are in utero) initiating the process of bonding through creating a pathway through words to emotional connection. It is one of our oldest forms of love.
Talking helps to clarify your thoughts, to pay attention to things and to get a different perspective or to get a handle on what may be churning inside. It substantiates our experiences and memories. It helps you to connect to others and to sometimes release an internal pressure such as anger or sadness.
William Blake in ‘A Poison Tree’ says
‘I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.‘
Talking forms the basis of psychological treatment and at a time when children and young people’s mental ill health is at an all time high, how do we encourage them to talk, particularly boys?
The statistics on mental health problems indicate a heavier bias towards boys. In children aged 5-10 years, 5.10% boys present with mental health problems in comparison with girls; and in children aged 11-15 years, 12.8% comprise of boys whilst 9.5% are girls (National Statistics online, 2004).
The types of difficulties boys present with include a higher rate of behavioural and developmental problems such as conduct disorders and autistic spectrum disorders and in the older group, a higher proportion of alcohol and drug misuse, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Statistics also indicate that suicide in more common in young men under the age of 35.
And yet, far less boys admit to experiencing emotional difficulties and attendance figures to G.P’s indicate that more girls and women seek help. In a ‘man-up’ culture, where expressing vulnerability is seen to be negative, encouraging boys and young men to admit to mental health difficulties remains a challenge. Education plays a huge role in enabling discussion, discouraging ‘banter’ and bringing about an attitude change. Talking at school is a good start, together with promoting and supporting fathers to instigate discussion about concerns and worries.
In an age when self-harm predominates as way in which 1 in 12 children in the UK non verbally communicate their stress and distress, surely we need to provide them with verbal tools which will enable them to begin a process of change and healing?
It’s natural to feel anxious before an exam and we all know that a moderate degree of anxiety boosts performance. However, some students report severe levels of crippling anxiety. In 2011 Child Line confirmed increasingly levels of stress in children and young people trying to cope with the pressures that accompany exams.
There are many Problem Focused strategies that you can access which focus on managing your behaviour whether it be to have breaks, be organized or a variety of other techniques.
However, Emotion Focused strategies help us to deal with exams positively and well through helpful thinking and helpful ways of being with friends and others.
Helpful thinking –
‘I can do’ is a good way to think. To help you with this
- Remind yourself of what you find interesting in your work and what you have got right
- Make it about doing it to better yourself rather than being better than others – its not about being the best, its about doing your best
- Catch negative thoughts such as ‘I’m going to fail’ and balance them with a positive such as ‘I am capable of success’
- If you’ve got things wrong see them as things you can learn from
- Try not to build scary future scenarios in your mind, focus on what’s working now
Helpful emotions –
Do you give yourself time to notice your emotions? Now would be a good time to do this.
Stop for a moment, keep your feet firmly on the ground, breathe out and notice what you are feeling. Just observe what the feelings are. Imagine lots of clouds drifting over you. Place each feeling in a cloud. Just watch them as they float above you. They may drift back but you can let them drift away again.
Putting away emotions and choosing whether to interact with them or not is a helpful strategy to manage your emotions during exams. Some emotions such as anxiety or unhappiness can take up valuable space in your head.
The impact of having a sibling or a friend who has a mental health issue can be draining
Some possible strategies to help siblings and friends cope with the situation:
- Give them opportunities to talk – about themselves as well as the person they are concerned about. Within a family context this may be with other siblings or parents, while at school it may be with pastoral staff.
- Give them access to factual information about the condition, as well as support. Recommended websites, discussions with a care team, suitable leaflets or books or talking to a school nurse can all be useful.
- Be prepared to listen, but in a supportive and non-judgmental manner. You may find training on this subject useful if you are a parent, teacher, peer mentor etc who’s trying to help.
- Help them learn to accept the changes they notice in their sibling or friend and to accept the impact it has on them as well.
- Encourage them to let the person who is unwell to be as independent as possible and to manage not being over-involved.
- Help them to avoid placing blame or guilt on themselves
- Help them learn to prioritise themselves.
- Encourage them to gain control over their own lives and take regular time out for themselves, using spare time for things like keeping fit and healthy.
- Show them how to seek help if they have their own mental health problems.
The impact of mental illness on siblings and friends often goes undetected and yet it can have far-reaching effects – sometimes what is caused is a ripple, but at other times siblings and friends can be caught up in a torrent of emotions, which they may find difficult to deal with, thereby having a knock-on effect on their own mental wellbeing.
Many teenagers are vulnerable to some form of addiction. Although addiction to drugs is most commonly reported, there are also activities that are addictive. Common teenage addictions include gaming, Internet gambling, pornography, exercise, the Internet and other technology.
Addiction has a clear craving component; it is compulsive with increasing tolerance to what the original effect was; it affects the individual in a negative way and the person feels out of control of the behaviour and is unable to stop even with effort. Withdrawal is noted if the behaviour is discontinued for even a short period of time.
- A resilient school provides physical and emotional safety.
- It offers consistency, engagement and capacity for mastery.
- It is aware of risks, provides accurate mental health information and support and includes making good connections with their students, families and community providers.
- A resilient school takes appropriate, prompt action