Resources

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Mental Health

 

What is Mental Health?

The World Health Organisation describe mental health as ‘the foundation for the well-being and effective functioning of individuals. It is more than the absence of a mental disorder; it is the ability to think, learn, and understand one's emotions and the reactions of others.’  Therefore, we feel that it is vital to think about mental health in just the same way that you may think about your physical health.  It is likely that throughout our lives we will have times when we are more, or less, mentally healthy, and learning how to maintain our own mental well-being, and support the mental well-being of others is key.

 

Common Mental Health Issues

 

It is normal and healthy to feel anxious and low at times, but when these feelings start to take over our everyday lives and impact on our ability to function, it would be advisable to seek professional advice and support.  Click on the links to learn more about some of the more common mental health issues that you may see in children and young people.

 

Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal, healthy response to what we perceive to be an emergency situation.  Due to the way in which the brain develops, children are particularly prone to responding with heightened emotions, and find it more difficult to understand or regulate these emotions.  In many instances the fight or flight survival instinct can be very useful.  However, when the anxiety experienced by a young person starts to affect their general functioning, they may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.  Anxiety disorders are one of the most common types of mental health concerns for children and young people.    

 

Signs to look out for;

 

- Muscle tension

- Trembling

-Heart palpitations

- Sweating

- Changes in eating

- Difficulty sleeping

- Being clingy

- More tearful

- Complaining of tummy aches, or feeling unwell

-Avoidance of anxiety provoking situations

 

Find out more;

 

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/anxiety-in-children/

 

https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/mental-health-advice-for-children-and-young-people/anxiety

 

https://www.annafreud.org/parents-and-carers/child-in-mind/

 

Depression

Although people often use the word ‘depressed’ to describe times when they feel a bit low, low mood becomes depression in the clinical sense of the word when mood has been predominantly low for a period of over 2 weeks.  Children may present as being irritable, have difficulty sleeping and you may notice that they start to withdraw and do not want to do the things that they used to enjoy.  They may be self-critical, find it difficult to concentrate and do not have the energy to finish work.

 Signs to look out for;

  • Feeling depressed mood most of the day, every day

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities

  • Significant weight loss, when not dieting, or weight gain

  • A decrease or increase in appetite

  • Frequent insomnia or sleeping too much

  • Extreme restlessness or lethargy

  • Fatigue or loss of energy

  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt

  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate

  • Recurrent thoughts of death and suicidal thoughts

 

Find out more;

https://www.thecalmzone.net/

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk

https://www.amh.org.uk/news/depression-in-young-people/

 

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are mental illnesses that involve disordered eating behaviour.  This sometimes involves limiting the amount of food eaten (e.g. anorexia nervosa), binging on food and then purging (e.g. bulimia nervosa), or a combination of these behaviours.  According to the Eating Disorder charity, BEAT, ‘eating disorders are not all about food itself, but about feelings. The way the person interacts with food may make them feel more able to cope or may make them feel in control.’  95% of eating disorder sufferers are between the ages of 12 and 26, however, there have been cases in children as young as 6.  It is the third most common mental illness in teenagers.

Signs to look out for;

  • Saying they have eaten earlier or will eat later, or that they have eaten more than they have

  • Not being truthful about how much weight they have lost

  • Strict dieting and avoiding food they think is fattening

  • Counting the calories in food excessively

  • Cutting food into tiny pieces to make it less obvious they have eaten little or to make food easier to swallow

  • Eating very slowly

  • Obsessive and/or rigid behaviour, particularly around food

  • Irritability

  • Excessive exercising

  • Vomiting or misusing laxatives (purging)

  • Social withdrawal and isolation 

  • Wearing baggy clothing to hide their body, due to self-consciousness or to make weight loss less noticeable

 

Find out more;

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/types

https://www.mind.org.uk/

 

Self-Harm

Self harm is any behaviour where someone causes harm to themselves, usually as a way to help cope with difficult or distressing thoughts and feelings. It most frequently takes the form of cutting, burning or non-lethal overdoses.  Recent research suggests that self-harm among young people aged 10-19 was three times more common among girls than boys.  Although those who self-harm are at increased risk of suicide, self-harm is better thought of as a way to try to cope and carry on.  Reasons for self-harm are often complex and vary between each individual, for example for some it provides a distraction, a release, or a way of feeling something.  The intervention depends upon the underlying reason for the self-harming behaviour.  Remember that it is not helpful to think of self-harming as ‘attention-seeking’ and very often those who self-harm go to great lengths to hide this from others.

 

Signs to look out for;

 

-Changes in clothes worn e.g. wearing long sleeved tops, or becoming reluctant to do PE or swim.

-Changes in eating/sleeping habits

-Becoming increasingly isolated or socially withdrawn

-Changes in mood

-Talking about self-harm or suicide

-Expressing feelings of failure or loss of hope

 

Find out more;

 

www.Youngminds.org.uk

Calm Harm app

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/self-harm/

Self-heal app

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/self-harm/about-self-harm/

How to look after our Mental Health

 

Whilst most of us know how to keep ourselves physically healthily, many people are unsure of how to keep themselves mentally healthy.  Dr Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry, has used this analogy to create the ‘Healthy Mind Platter’; a plate containing all of the components needed within a day to support our mental health.

Sleep Time

Sleep is incredibly important for allowing us to be able to regulate our emotions.  When we are tired, we are likely to feel low and more anxious, as well as probably having a shorter fuse too!  Look at the NHS website for the recommended amount of sleep for you and your child.  When our mental health is suffering, we may find it more difficult to sleep, which can further exacerbate the issue.  You may find the following tips helpful for giving yourself the best chance of a restful night’s sleep.

  • Keep bedtime and wake times consistent across the week wherever possible

  • Avoid caffeine, certainly after midday

  • Use mindfulness or progressive muscle relaxation to help you to relax

  • Some scents such as lavender can be helpful in calming the mind

  • A warm bath in the 2 hours before bed can help to cool core body temperature to the optimal level for inducing sleep

  • Avoid screens in the hour before bed

 

Physical Time

Frequent physical exercise allows us to put any adrenaline that may have been produced during the stress response to good use.  In addition to this, whenever we do something that causes physical discomfort (e.g. exercise, eating spicy foods, and even self-harming), our bodies release endorphins (derived from the words ‘endogenous morphines’, meaning morphine produced internally) which have a calming and mood enhancing impact.   Exercise outside to maximise the endorphin release!

Focus Time

We need to feel motivated and engaged in a goal-directed activity.  This might mean learning something new, or feeling a sense of achievement when we tick something off our to-do list, but this sense of focus and purpose is important to positive mental health.

Connecting Time

This refers to time spent connecting, face-to-face, with others.  This might be having a conversation about our day, sharing a book before bed, or engaging with each other over a nice meal.  For children, connections within the family tend to be most important, and as they become teenagers, the innate drive towards independence means that their relationships with their peers take on greater importance.  The Mental Health Foundation called relationships the ‘forgotten foundation of mental health and well-being’, with harmony at home is one of the most important predictors of well-being.

Play Time

Play time refers to time spent doing something that we enjoy.  Whilst children spend lots of time playing, as adults, we often lose sight of what we enjoy and don’t make time to engage in our own hobbies.  This time to have fun and experience a state of flow (being completely immersed in something that we enjoy) is important in allowing us to ‘press reset’ and be able to manage future stressors with resilience.

 

Down Time

Down time refers to putting aside some time to ‘just be’.  Often when we go on holiday, we may lie on a sun lounger in the sun doing absolutely nothing, feeling content and allowing our minds to wander.  However, most of us don’t set aside time for this in our normal lives.  In fact, when we do find ourselves alone and free for a moment or two, we reach for our phones or find something that we feel we should be doing (e.g. cleaning!).  Down time is important for allowing us to process our thoughts and have some ‘headspace’.  Try going for a walk alone, or sitting outside for 5 minutes and allow your mind to wander without doing anything else.

 

Time In

Time In means having time to reflect upon the day, for example, things that were positive about the day, or things for which you are grateful.  Taking the time to do this each day means that over time, we habitually start to notice the positive things as they happen rather than taking them for granted, and this can have a significant impact upon our well-being.  Another way of spending ‘time in’ is to practice Mindfulness, by purposefully noticing the present moment in a non-judgemental way.

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