Osborne Cawkwell – Time to Talk
We have always believed that tutoring is not just about a student achieving higher academic grades: equally important is building confidence and encouraging inquisitive and independent thinking beyond the classroom.
In our current times of social media where everyone gets to judge you and your life in an instant, it is even more important that young people are strong, resilient and filled with the belief that they are on the right track.
With this in mind, highlighting mental health issues is a major focus for us this year and to get things started, Dan has put together this booklet to bring you all up to speed on what kinds of issues your students might be struggling with and what starter steps you can take to support them. We have further projects planned this year including a social media campaign, specific mental health training for OC members and guidelines as to how you can weave mindfulness and positive thinking exercises into your lessons, so watch this space!
What is Mental Health?
1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem, so it’s highly likely you will either know someone with a problem or may have even experienced one yourself.
For those experiencing a problem, it can be very distressing, particularly at first as they may feel “weak” or like they’re “losing their mind” and they fear that things will never get better. Having a mental health problem can feel just as bad as a physical health issue, the only difference being people can’t see it.
Some of the most common mental health 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 over a long period of time, 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 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 disguising underlying problems such as low self-esteem or struggles with perfectionism. Although serious, eating disorders are treatable and full recovery is possible.
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
There is a number of different ways people can behave when they are experiencing a mental health problem. Common things to look out for include:
- Suddenly seeming tired all the time; persistent fatigue
- Not getting a good night’s sleep; oversleeping to compensate
- 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 their friends; isolating themselves
- Letting their school work slip, when they used to care about it
- Getting into trouble at school/outside of school
- Overeating/loss of appetite, resulting in weight gain/loss
- Irritability or lack of patience
Most teenagers will display at least one of these symptoms, but if you notice your student is 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.
On average, around 6,000 people commit suicide a year in the UK and Ireland due to mental health related issues. It’s the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 in the UK and is considerably higher in men, with nearly four times as many men committing suicide compared to women. It’s suggested that the reason for this is that men are less likely to ask for help or talk about their feelings or what’s on their mind.
However, with the right combination of treatments, mental health problems can be overcome or at least improved in most cases. Each person’s recovery is different. Some recover in a few weeks, some can take months and for others, it can turn into a long-term illness.
What can we do to help people with mental health problems?
First, 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 and explore what is causing them 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.
- 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.
As well as going to the doctor’s, there’s also a number of lifestyle changes that can be made to support mental wellbeing. We all know the obvious ones like eating a healthy diet and getting 8 hours of sleep, but what else can we do?
Five Ways to Wellbeing
Based on research carried out in the field of Positive Psychology, a relatively new branch of Psychology that focuses on the scientific study of happiness, the New Economics Foundation have come up with the following “Five Ways to Wellbeing”.
1. Keep learning – Young people often fall into the habit of thinking that their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are fixed traits: “I’m not a Maths person”, “I’m bad at exams”. This is what’s known as a “fixed mindset”. What we want to encourage is a “Growth Mindset” – a term coined by Carol Dweck, professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Teach students that their ability now does not reflect their ability in the future and that through hard work and perseverance, their basic qualities can be improved.
Action: Give examples of people who have suffered from some form of adversity and still became successful, e.g. Richard Branson, Muhammad Ali, Thomas Edison.
2. Connect with others – Studies show that people who have one or more close friendships are happier. Feeling connected to and valued by others is a fundamental human need. Encouraging students to limit their use of social media and connect with friends in the real world can promote positive mental health.
Action: Text a friend and suggest meeting up for a coffee. Join a club.
3. Get active – Exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression/anxiety. It doesn’t even have to be intense exercise. Walking fast over a period of time can have the same positive effect on mental well-being as going for a jog.
Action: Go for a walk in the park for 5 to 10 minutes. Start small.
4. Be present – Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to affect not only how the brain works but also its structure. People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain associated with positive emotion) which is generally less active in people who are depressed. Getting a student to pay attention to what’s happening around them right now can be a great way of interrupting the constant cycle of rumination by focusing the mind on the present. Some great apps you can download include; Headspace, Calm and Buddhify.
Action: Try starting each lesson with 5 minutes of “box breathing” (inhale through the nose for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale through the mouth for 5 seconds and then hold for another 5 seconds).
5. Practice gratitude – “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”- Epicurus.
When someone is feeling down, it can be easy for them to focus on what they don’t have. By training their brain to consciously focus on what they do have, we can reduce certain negative thought patterns, such as envy, frustration and regret.
Action: Get students to write down 5 things they are grateful for every day.
What to do if you think your student is suffering from a mental health problem
If someone reveals that they have been diagnosed with a mental health problem, don’t judge it or let that diagnosis cloud your attitude towards them. A mental health problem is no different to a physical health problem and just because they’ve been given this diagnosis, it doesn’t mean they are any less able to learn.
If you think they’re in danger or at risk of harming themselves, you need to inform their parents immediately, especially if you can see obvious signs of self-harm. Getting young people some help can be crucial because they might be too weak or too scared to ask for help themselves.
It’s important to remember that ultimately you’re there to teach, you don’t want to be spending too much time on being a counsellor. If you feel it’s becoming a bit too much, or it’s starting to make you feel uncomfortable, speak to their parents, to us and/or refer them to one of the charities listed below.
If you need any advice, you can always give us a call at the office and we’ll be happy to help.
Where to go/Further reading
Provides 24/7 emotional support to people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.
Tel: 116 123
CALM (Campaigning Against Living Miserably)
Offering support specifically to men in the UK, of any age, who are down or in crisis via their helpline, web chat and website.
Tel: 0808 802 58 58.
The Listening Place
Face to face support for people who are feeling suicidal. Bookings by appointment only.
Tel: 020 7259 8136
One of the largest mental health charities around. Offers extensive information and advice on a variety of mental health issues.
Tel: 0300 123 3393
Offers free, confidential advice to any adult/parent worried about the mental health of a young person.
Tel: 0808 802 5544
Website offering information about the various types of medications that are available for mental health sufferers.
Action for Happiness
Fantastic charity set up by Anthony Seldon to help encourage people to take daily action towards improving their mental wellbeing.
School of Life
Series of lectures/videos created by philosopher Alain De Botton, offering advice on a wide range of problems.