Information for Parents

5 positive steps to good mental health for your family.

It’s not uncommon for households with young people to experience extra stresses and dramas, so it helps to understand a little of what’s going on.

The beginning of adolescence is the start of a new phase that can alter the dynamic of family life. It brings a whole new range of exciting and challenging experiences, but it can also be a rollercoaster ride that puts new strains on even the most ‘together’ of families.

It can be an anxious time for parents as they live with their teenager’s new behaviours and mood swings. A once calm-natured and overtly loving child can, almost overnight, transform into an often sullen and distant teenager. There may be times of apparently unexplainable mood swings or extra emotional sensitivity that sometimes leaves parents reeling and wondering what’s coming next!

Whilst every family’s experience is different, there is much common ground, and it can help just to hear that you are not alone, that much of this ‘difficult’ behaviour is part of a developmental phase, which will pass . . . and that you will get through it!

During adolescence, your child is going through massive changes, both in brain and body. Whilst managing a move to secondary school with its academic challenges and examinations, they are also navigating through new social and peer pressures – all at a time when neurological and hormonal changes can be wreaking havoc.

It’s now understood that during the teenage years the brain goes through a huge amount of rewiring. Most change takes place in the front part of the brain – the area associated with planning, problem solving, prioritising, thinking ahead, self-evaluation and emotion. Some experts estimate human brain development is not complete until around age twenty-five.

With all this change, it’s no wonder that things that seem trivial to adults can detonate emotional grenades for sensitive, self-conscious teenagers who might not have developed adequate coping tools to deal with certain stressful situations.

Bearing this in mind can help when parents and teenagers find themselves head to head, exasperated and exhausted in a chasm of misunderstanding!

It can sometimes be hard not to worry but, usually, during adolescence, ‘strange’, ‘unreasonable’ and ‘oversensitive’ behaviours are a sign of a child going through important development phases.

Though a young person might not wish to be included in as much ‘family’ activity, you should find that they are still able to engage in healthy social activity outside the home. If your child is withdrawing socially, disconnecting from old friends and seems unable or reluctant to make new ones, this may be a warning a sign that there is something more going on.

It’s perfectly normal for young people to experience episodes of sadness, anxiety, frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed. You should be concerned, however, if these episodes linger for more than a few days. If school performance drops or if your child develops persistent physical symptoms (for example, headaches, stomach cramps or sickness) and reluctance to go to school, it’s time to probe a little deeper. Similarly, take note if there are big changes in energy levels, memory and concentration, or if they become worryingly angry and aggressive or express frustration in an inappropriate physical way. If in doubt, seek further help through the organisations featured on this website.

‘Mental health’ is the term we use when talking about our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It relates to how we feel about ourselves and how we handle ourselves emotionally. Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act, so it has a direct effect on how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Good mental health means we have the strength to overcome the difficulties and challenges that everybody faces at some time in life.

Most people struggle with symptoms of impaired mental health at some level. These might include feeling low, depressed, overwhelmed, fearful or under too much pressure; suffering with low self-esteem; never feeling ‘good enough’; hiding from situations and continually putting things off, withdrawing from friends; phobias, mood swings, panic attacks, being fearful of the future...

These feelings are especially common for young people but, when struggles persist or when they are not recognised as a problem, they can begin to affect the way a person functions. The consequences of poor mental health can be serious: low performance in school, lack of good friendships and social interaction, substance or alcohol abuse, risky sexual behaviour, self-harm that could lead to serious mental illness.

If left unchecked, such struggles in the teenage years may remain in the longer term and possibly get worse in adulthood. If families can identify and tackle any issues now, there is a far greater chance of protecting a child’s future.

Anyone, at any age can face challenges to their mental health and it’s not always possible to identify one single cause. More often, it’s a combination of stresses and pressures that build up and lead to symptoms.

Increasingly, young people talk about the stress of school, the pressure to do well in exams and about fears that, even if they get the qualifications they want, they won’t be able to get the job or secure the future they hope for. These are very understandable concerns. What is important is how your child responds to such anxiety.

Another common trigger is social stress and bullying (which has become increasingly prevalent through social media). People who are bullied can feel isolated, alone, helpless and struggle with their self-identity. Some develop ‘coping strategies’ such as self- seclusion or self-harm. This makes learning and engaging with others even more difficult and so the spiral of isolation and depression continues.

Many other factors can cause long-term stress and be at the root of poor mental health. They can range from the effects of poverty or abuse, through to anything that brings significant or unexpected change, for example: moving house or school, parental separation, merging families, injury or illness, worry over developing sexual identity, unusual absence of a parent or significant adult, death or illness of someone close, having to become a carer, or taking on more responsibility in the home...

It is important to be aware of such situations so you can identify if you or your child might need extra support.

Early intervention is crucial to prevent normal stress and anxiety developing into harmful mental health issues. When considering your child’s mental health, you may also identify that you or other members of the family are suffering with impaired well-being. There are resources and specialist help available to young people and adults; this website details some local and national links to support. In the first instance, this website offers 5 common sense strategies that can help you and your child establish good mental health and prevent normal stresses and anxieties from escalating. By incorporating these action points into everyday life, you could protect the mental health of your whole family.

Parenting isn’t easy but it’s important to recognise how much your teenager needs you, even though their needs may not be as apparent as in their toddler days! Your support at this stage in life can have a massive impact on their future. So, do everything you can to be there.

Young people can be reluctant to talk, so make conversations easier by ensuring you give them time and can listen without other distractions. Try not to interrupt or instantly provide answers. Today’s young people are growing up in a very different world to the one you grew up in! If face-to-face conversation is uncomfortable, try talking on a car journey where there will be less eye contact. You’ll find more helpful tips on keeping communication open on the various websites recommended here. Recognising the challenges your teenager is dealing with should help you understand certain behaviours and decide how to best respond. Supporting them in the simple strategies outlined here should have a positive effect on the whole family.

Is your child finding it hard to ‘bounce back’ after a difficult time? Maybe they are having problems with their friendships, finding the pressure of school too much, or dealing with issues at home?

HeadStart Kent’s Resilience Hub offers information, guidance, resources and ways to access support. Visit the HeadStart Kent Resilience Hub at: www.headstartkent.org.uk

If you would like further advice or information; or to discuss a referral for treatment from:

  • School Public Health Service (Primary, Adolescent and Targeted Emotional Health and Wellbeing Service) provided by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Children & Young People’s Mental Health Service provided by North East London NHS Foundation Trust
Please contact the Kent single point of access (SPA): Tel: 0300 123 4496. (Full details about what these services offer can be found on the Headstart Kent Resilience Hub).

5 Steps to good mental health

Food for Mood? That’s right, there’s a proven link between what we eat and how we feel. Click to see what Bex, or Molly and James, have to say on the matter...

Give the brain a break! Night-time screen-time triples the chances of mental illness. So check-in on how best to check-out with those zzzzzz. Click to see what Bex, or Molly and James, have to say on the matter...

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Get moving to release some feel-good chemicals and look after your body and brain. Click to see what Bex, or Molly and James, have to say on the matter...

Positive thinking means making good choices, and that makes a happier you! Click to hear what Bex, or Molly and James, have to say on the matter...

Support for Your Own Mental Health

Mental Health Matters Helpline:

If you would like to talk to a trained and experienced support worker to provide you with emotional guidance and information, please call 0800 107 0160 – available 24/7. Contacting the Helpline can give you a feeling of relief, wellbeing and peace of mind. You won’t be judged and the service is confidential unless there is a risk to yourself or others. You might choose to call the helpline if:

  • You may be feeling low, anxious or stressed and feel talking to another person might help you cope
  • You may be in extreme emotional distress and feel that there is nowhere else to turn
  • You may be caring for another person and finding it difficult to cope.

Live Well Kent:

Are your feelings or worries impacting on your relationships, work or life generally? The Live Well Kent service can help you improve your mental and physical health and wellbeing. It is a free service for anyone over 17. You might want to improve your everyday living, become more independent and confident, meet new people, get better skills or find a job. Please visit: www.livewellkent.org.uk for more information or call on 0800 567 7699 or email info@livewellkent.org.uk and we’ll talk you through how we can help you and give the support and advice you need.

If you’d like to refer a client or friend to the service, please call on 0800 567 7699, email info@livewellkent.org.uk or visit www.livewellkent.org.uk.

NHS Choices:

Get details of other NHS mental health services near you, along with online advice for a varied range of mental health challenges, including coping with bereavement, financial problems and relationships.

https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx

YoungMinds:

YoungMinds features a wealth of information on how parents can best support children through specific difficulties including an online ‘parent’s lounge’ discussing topics chosen by you and a helpline for parents to get confidential, expert advice.

https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/for-parents/