Mental health problems seem to be on the rise in young people.
Whether that’s because we’ve become better at diagnosing them, or there’s genuinely more pressure on young people nowadays with increasing exams and social media pressure, we don’t know. But what we do know, according to www.mentalhealth.org is that:
“10% of children and young people (aged 5-16) have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70% don’t get appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age”.
One of the main reasons for this is failing to spot the signs early on. Our mission as an agency (Osborne Cawkwell’s) is to help lower that number, by training tutors in how to recognise the symptoms of a range of mental health problems and knowing what to do if they suspect one of their students is struggling with one.
Some of the most common issues affecting young people are:
- Depression: A mood disorder affecting how a person thinks, feels and is able to cope with daily activities to the point where it drastically inhibits their ability to live a normal life. Most of us feel sad, lonely or a bit rundown at times, but if these feelings persist for longer than 2 weeks, that is when it could be considered ‘depression’.
- Anxiety: A term used to describe intense feelings of fear, panic or worry. This is often accompanied by physical sensations, such as heart palpitations, a dry mouth or feeling faint. Although unpleasant, anxiety is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response – our normal biological reaction to feeling threatened, and it can be controlled.
- Eating Disorders: A range of conditions characterised by fear of food. For some people, focussing on food can be a way of masking underlying problems such as low self-esteem, negative body image and struggles with perfectionism. The two most common ones are:
- Anorexia: A condition where individuals self-induce weight loss through limiting the amount of food they eat, forcing themselves to vomit, and exercising excessively.
- Bulimia: Sufferers binge on large quantities of food, then purge it from their body by forcing themselves to be sick.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD): Sufferers of BDD tend to obsess over one or more perceived flaw in their physical appearance. These flaws often appear very slight to other people or can only be seen by the sufferer. For those with BDD, these obsessions and behaviours can cause emotional distress and have a significant impact on their ability to carry on with day-to-day life.
How to spot mental health problems in young people
Each mental health problem will have its own specific set of signs and symptoms, but generally speaking, the most common ones to look out for include:
- Suddenly seeming fatigued all the time
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering details
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies previously enjoyed
- Feeling bored all the time/not looking forward to anything
- Not wanting to see friends; isolating oneself
- Letting school work slip, when previously used to care about it
- Irritability or lack of patience
Most teenagers will display at least one of these symptoms. However, if you notice they’re regularly displaying three or more, it’s important to tell someone. If left untreated, it can sometimes lead to self-harm and in the worst cases, attempts at suicide.
What to do if you suspect your student is suffering from a mental health problem
You should always try to establish an overall understanding of the student’s lifestyle.Pay particular attention to body language, speech and mood, since changes in these are good indicators that all is not well.
How you approach a young person will directly impact the extent to which they will confide in you. A relaxed approach tends to yield better results compared to a direct approach. So attempt to establish a rapport with them first before addressing anything mental health related.
If you do suspect something is wrong, try to resist the urge to label it straight away. Instead, ask questions, be curious: “You seem a bit tired today”, ”I can see you’re finding it hard to focus”, “Is everything ok?”. Young people often internalise their emotions and are not very open about how they’re feeling. Try to read between the lines and refer to the ‘signs and symptoms’ list to make your own assessment.
If they reveal to you that they think they’re struggling with something, that’s very brave on their part, so it’s important to respect that by listening without judgement or having any preconceived ideas about their condition.
There’s a misconception with mental health problems that a student will not be able to learn as well as other students, resulting in tutors not trying as hard or giving up on them. Capacity to learn is usually intact for most students, they may just need a bit of extra encouragement.
It can also be beneficial to reassure them that they’ve done the right thing in confiding in you by letting them know the following:
- What they have is a real medical condition
- It doesn’t make them weak or any less in character
- It’s very common; a lot of people have it and are still successful (give examples)
- Recovery is possible; it can sometimes take a while, but will get better quicker with the right help
In extreme cases, where you’re really concerned about the student, you could also contact their school. They will take the call anonymously and won’t notify the parents. Most schools have a nurse or well-being practitioner on site that can keep an eye on them and monitor their behaviour.
What can you do to help young people with mental health problems?
The first step is to recommend they pay a visit to their GP. They will give them an assessment and based on the results, prescribe either one or both of the following:
- Talking Therapy – Young people often find it easier to talk to a stranger than their friends or family. Speaking to a trained professional will give them an opportunity to look at their problems in a different way. They can explore what is causing their problems and how they can manage them more effectively.
Popular forms of therapy include: Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Psychotherapy. These are available both privately and on the NHS; however, if going through the NHS, the waiting list can be anywhere from 3 to 6 months. Charities such as Childline or Papyrus offer a talkline service that can be a good way to bridge the gap.
- Medication – This can have great success in helping to relieve the symptoms of a variety of mental health issues. For a lot of people, this can provide enough temporary relief to make the changes necessary in order to improve their situation to the point where medication is no longer required.
There is also a number of self-help strategies students can use to help improve their situation. If you would like to know more about these, we will be running a seminar in collaboration with The Tutors’ Association on the subject on December 5th. Click on the link below for more details and to book a space:
Mental Health in Young People. Understanding what issues they face and how can you help them as a tutor