What we all have to remember is that the teenage brain is not fully developed in terms of emotional response. With age comes wisdom, and the ability to cope better under stress. Being a teenager has become an increasingly more stressful time, and we ignore this fact at our peril.
If we are lucky our children/students do take the opportunities which are presented to open up and share their worries to enable us to help them through the difficult times. However, we know from increasingly sad statistics provided by such organisations as Time To Change that one in 10 young people experience mental health problems which can lead to: self-harming, drug abuse/taking and in some cases suicide in the young and that far too many students are still suffering in silence.
“One in 10 young people experience mental health problems.”
Childline recent quoted that boys are six times less likely to talk to a Childline counsellor about suicidal thoughts. Their new Tough to Talk campaign is encouraging boys to talk. With released figures that only 1934 sessions were delivered to boys 2015/2016 compared with 11,463 for girls. The suicide rate for boys aged 10-19 was more than double that for girls in 2015.
Stress affects all students
All students, at any level of academic abilities and attending schools in all areas, can and will be struggling at some stage or another. I know from working personally on research projects with colleagues within the education sector that students who are experiencing emotional problems often include the high achievers and may be living in an affluent area.
As with anyone suffering with stress, there are outward signs which can be picked up on by diligent parents and teachers… though don’t count on it! Depression and anxiety may manifest themselves in loss of appetite, sleeping problems and changes in behaviour. Often the quiet and apparently bright student may feel too embarrassed to admit they are finding studies and the oncoming exams all too much for them. Equally, the animated, popular student may be hiding all sorts of fears behind the exterior smile and somewhat happy disposition. It’s a minefield of emotions, hormones and fears of not succeeding.
Help is available – though budgets are tight
So, how do we pitch help and support to ensure all students are left in no doubt that if they are struggling and need help that it is there for the asking?
Answer: Communication, lots of it, and on a regular basis. Find new ways of communicating in all forms of media open to you. Making it clear that;
1. help is available,
2. it’s a positive move to seek it and
3. will be treated in strictest confidence.
Creating the right environment
We all know that students need the right environment to focus on their studies. This may be a quiet dining room at home or their own bedroom, and at school this may be the library or 6th form room. However, are we creating the ‘environment’ to talk freely? There may never be a right time, but we have to do our utmost to make time and this may need to be away from the normal confines of the classroom or the family home. Something as simple as; ‘let’s go out and eat/walk?’
De-stressing with animals and getting exercise
My own daughter’s university have all sorts of programmes and sessions available to attend to help de-stress. Which are really positively promoted as downtime – including spending time with various appealing animals echoing reports from ‘Child Health and Development’ survey:
‘Your pet has great healing powers according to researchers at the University of Warwick. A survey published last year in 'Child Care, Health and Development' found that over 90 per cent of children put their pets as their top ten most treasured relationships. Scientists believe that stroking your cat “It’s important to encourage regular exercise to increase a general feeling of wellbeing.”or dog can help you relax and, in turn, lower blood pressure. Doctors claim that this simple action of stroking your pet means that you are switching off from stressful situations such as work and emotional problems.’ - Extracts from the ‘Daily Mail’ Health article.
I know tutors recommend students study in chunks, and of course walking is a brilliant way to escape from the studying and get exercise in the fresh air. One of the many main recommendations in counselling is to encourage regular exercise to increase personal fitness and a general feeling of wellbeing - this is also true for students. Regular exercise is not only a distraction; it releases endorphins vital for improved focus, feeling positive and also helps lower blood pressure and can help to combat depression.
Everyone working within education sector is working towards the same goal to help develop well-rounded, healthy, positive, confident individuals who will go on to realise their dreams. For some, this journey will be trouble free. For those that find it harder to cope we are pulling together to recognise, understand and deliver the support they need.
How does your school combat stress? Let us know below.