How to look after your mental health this Christmas

Christmas is traditionally associated with joy and happiness – but for many, this isn’t the case. For those who already struggle with mental health, Christmas can pose many challenges for them, while 1 in 4 people say the Christmas period even makes their mental health worse.

No matter how you spend the festive season, we don’t want you to suffer so here are some tips to help you look after your mental health this Christmas.

How can Christmas affect mental health?

Social Anxiety at Christmas

For those with social anxiety, the gatherings of friends and family at Christmas can be difficult and overwhelming. Here are some ways you can manage social anxiety at Christmas

  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling before the party/gathering – getting it off your chest can massively help
  • Prepare conversation topics in advance so you can feel relaxed and confident when socialising
  • Plan for a safe space if you start feeling overwhelmed e.g. go outside for a break or take some time to yourself in the bathroom
  • Know it’s ok to say ‘no’ – if you want to leave early or don’t want to go at all, it is perfectly ok to say no

Eating Disorders at Christmas

Christmas can be particularly challenging for those with eating disorders since there is a lot of emphasis on grand meals, snacks and festive treats. Here are some tips to help anyone with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder:

  • Don’t make a fuss about the Christmas meal, make it as similar to normal meals as possible
  • Opt for buffet-style meals rather than sit-down pre-portioned meals
  • After planned meal-times, shift the focus to non-food activities like games that you can enjoy
  • Try to avoid comparing yourself to others
  • Also, try to avoid comparing this Christmas to previous years

Stress at Christmas

Christmas can be very stressful for many reasons whether it’s an increased feeling of responsibility, the financial burden of gifts and food, or a need to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas. Here are some ways you can manage your stress this Christmas:

  • Set realistic expectations about Christmas – this can lessen the pressure you feel to make it ‘perfect’
  • Take a break – no matter how small. Even 5 minutes to yourself can help you feel calmer and less stressed in the moment.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others, especially on social media – nobody is perfect.
  • Challenge the thoughts you have that something ‘needs’ to happen over Christmas
  • Create a ‘Christmas Routine’ that can help you feel more organised and focused even when out of your usual routine

Loneliness at Christmas

For those who spend Christmas alone, it can be an incredibly difficult time. If you’re feeling alone this Christmas, try some of these tips:

  • Volunteer for a charity to help and spend time with others
  • Say ‘yes’ when invited to gatherings – even if you’re unsure
  • Give yourself a project to keep busy and distracted
  • Treat yourself to activities you can only enjoy alone like reading or pampering

Read more about how to deal with loneliness

Depression at Christmas

Christmas can be a tough time for those who struggle with depression when everything in the world seems to be telling you to be ‘happy’. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can also be triggered around this time. Here are some ways to manage depression over Christmas:

  • Avoid excessive alcohol and substances as these often intensify feelings of low mood
  • Stay active – exercise, even a short walk, can help you release endorphins that help you feel good
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or set boundaries with others
  • Avoid comparisons to others or previous years

Grief at Christmas

Grief can be particularly difficult over Christmas. Recent losses can make you feel less engaged with the season than you usually would while even losses that occurred years ago can make you feel secondary loss. While you shouldn’t try to deny your grief this Christmas, there are some things you can do to help manage it:

  • Be mindful of your triggers so you can plan for time to recover
  • Manage your expectations – grief can make it more difficult to complete tasks so don’t worry if you can’t do as much as usual
  • Talk to others – whether it’s friends, family members, or professionals
  • Make time for your own wellbeing including sleep, exercise and fun

Read more about supporting your mental health during grief 

Nobody should have to suffer with mental health this Christmas. At Shawmind, we recognise that half of all mental health problems start in school so we’re on a mission to improve mental health support for young people and reduce their mental health struggles as adults. Help us in 2022 by connecting us with the head of your children’s school, donating or learning more about our #Headucation campaign.

Want to learn more about some common mental health conditions? Sign up for our online mental health courses.

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Supporting mental health through grief and bereavement

What is grief?

Grief describes the feelings you get when losing something important to you – it can be a person, an animal, an item, or a concept.

Grief affects people in different ways and at different levels depending on the circumstances of the loss (e.g. those who have experienced a bereavement may feel more intense grief than those who have lost their job) but all grief is valid.

Common feelings that occur due to grief include helplessness, sadness, anger, guilt, and exhaustion.

Types of grief

Grief is often associated with the moment immediately after the loss of something or someone loved, but there are two other main types of grief you may also experience.

  • Anticipatory grief – the feelings you get in the lead up to a loss or death e.g. with a terminal health condition
  • Secondary loss – the feelings when you experience something you want to share with your loved one but cannot due to the original loss

How does grief impact mental health?

The way that you feel while grieving can be very similar to depression with feelings of extreme sadness and low mood for an extended time. It’s not unusual for those who have experienced loss or bereavement to develop a mental health condition in the future.

Grief can feel constant, overwhelming, and painful which can make the experience even more difficult for those with existing mental health challenges to carry on with their day-to-day life.

As with any mental health experience, grief works on a spectrum. You will likely have some days that are better than others – here are our tips for looking after your mental health no matter what level of grief you are feeling.

How can you look after mental health through grief?

Identify your triggers

It’s important for both your initial grieving period and any secondary loss you may feel later to identify what triggers your feelings. While they may not always be avoidable, by identifying what they are you can prepare yourself for difficult situations and develop healthy ways to cope.

Give yourself a break

As we’ve mentioned, the emotions you feel during the grieving process can be overwhelming making it difficult to perform at the same level you normally would. At times like this the mantra “something is better than nothing” can be a good way to stay motivated without pushing yourself too far. Each day, set smaller tasks for yourself to achieve. E.g. cleaning the whole house may feel like too big a task to take on – but making your bed is ‘better’ than doing nothing at all which can make you feel more positive.

Talk to someone

Talking can be incredibly helpful after a loss as it helps you come to terms with the experience, express your emotions, and get advice from others.

Talk to others involved in the loss

Talking to those who have also been affected by the loss will help you to understand how they feel and vice versa. Being ‘in it together’ can make it feel easier to cope since you can support each other and understand your current feelings in a way few others can.

Talk to a friend or family member

Talking to those around you can be a good way to let them know how you’re feeling and what support you need. They may also be able to provide you with advice and guidance from their own experiences or offer support in areas that you feel too overwhelmed to handle.

Talk to a professional

Talking to a professional can help you learn techniques to process and manage your grief. Or you may choose to talk to a professional if you don’t want to share (some or all of) your feelings with those around you. You can talk to a therapist or contact a charity organisation for support.

Get more sleep

Sleep is essential for positive mental health – a lack of it is likely to make you feel worse. If you can, sleep as often as possible and don’t worry about whether it’s 3 AM or 3 PM, or if you’re sleeping for 7 hours at a time or for 1 hour 7 times! If you still have to stick to a normal sleeping schedule, check out these tips for getting better sleep from Wellity.

Look after your physical health

Many studies have shown a link between exercise and positive mental health – when you exercise your body releases endorphins that make you feel good. Nobody expects you to run a marathon while grieving – small activities like a 10 minute walk or a quick morning stretch can help.

Avoid substances

Substances like alcohol and drugs can make any existing feelings of low mood worse (particularly those that are classed as depressants). While some people use substances to ‘escape’ their feelings at that moment, it can often make it harder to cope in the long term. Consistent use of substances at a time like this can also lead to addiction. It is common for teens and young adults to turn to drugs and alcohol while grieving if they are not receiving sufficient support from elsewhere.

Learn from others

Everyone is going to experience grief at some point in their lives which means that everyone has an experience to share. Learning about those experiences can help you come to terms with your own loss, pick up coping techniques, and find healthy ways to manage grief.

Talk to your friends, watch interviews or read books about grief and loss.

One child in every classroom will experience the loss of a loved one before age 16. Grief can be incredibly difficult for children to cope with, we want to make it easier. Our Headucation campaign aims to provide fully-funded mental health training to teachers to support children and young people through difficult circumstances. Help us by buying our products, registering for our training courses or donating directly to our campaign.

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How to deal with loneliness

As we near Christmas, many people may be excited about the prospect of spending time with loved ones – but for others, the festive season can intensify pre-existing feelings of loneliness or trigger feelings unique to this time of year.

45% of England’s population, around twenty-five million people, report feelings of loneliness throughout the year. These feelings often increase around Christmas if you find yourself spending it alone due to the loss of a loved one, travel limitations, or limited social activities to take part in.

Alongside the effects loneliness can have on your physical health (e.g. risk of stroke and high blood pressure), research has shown that loneliness can also be a risk factor for depression, especially in later life. Social interactions significantly support positive mental health and give us opportunities to give and receive help when we need it.

Nobody should have to feel lonely, here are some tips to help you combat loneliness.

Tips to combat loneliness

Improve your awareness

The first step to successfully combatting loneliness is to improve your awareness of why you feel that way. Ask yourself if you’ve felt lonely a lot or if this is a recent development. This can help you to understand what triggers your feelings of loneliness and identify any patterns that you can actively work to change.

E.g. if you’ve been feeling lonely recently because you’ve declined invites to social gatherings that revolve around alcohol a possible solution could be to find or suggest alcohol-free social gatherings.

Say “Yes” when invited

A simple way to combat feelings of loneliness is to say “yes” whenever you’re invited to an event or gathering – even if you’re not massively excited about it. You may find that you actually end up enjoying the event but even if you don’t, the simple interactions you can have with others will help to lessen your feelings of loneliness.

Reach out to others

Rather than waiting for others to reach out to you, you may need to actively reach out to them.

Call an old friend or family member and arrange a date to meet and catch up. You can invite them to your home or go out to a café.

Arrange a social event yourself and invite others to it. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair, you can simply ask your colleagues if they’d like to go for a coffee together at lunch, or ask your neighbours if they’d like to come over for dinner.

Join a class or club that you’re interested in to meet others with similar interests who could become new friends. Even if you don’t form strong bonds straight away, getting together with others for an activity you enjoy may make you feel less lonely.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to combat loneliness – you get to meet other volunteers and charity workers while getting a good feeling from helping others. Loneliness can often be a result of not feeling like you’re part of anything so being part of a community of volunteers can help you feel less lonely.

At Shawmind, we’re always looking for volunteers to help… Either with our campaigns or in our Breathe Cafés. Apply to become a Shawmind volunteer.

Keep busy

If being alone is unavoidable at certain times, it can help you feel less lonely by being productive. Keep busy with a project around your home or at work. If you’re feeling up to it, you might also find that exercise is a good way to fill your time – while also having massive benefits for your mental and physical health.

Go virtual

If you can’t meet up with friends and family in person, spend time with them virtually. Video calls aren’t as complex as they once were – you can easily do them through phones, tablets, computers and smart home devices using Messenger, WhatsApp or Zoom.

Plan virtual events together, call for special occasions, or simply give them a ring when you fancy a chat.

Treat yourself

If you can’t avoid being alone at a certain time, treat yourself to things you can only do when you’re alone, such as reading a book, watching a whole boxset, or giving yourself a day of pampering. Generally doing things that make you feel good will give you a more positive outlook and help you to feel less lonely.

Adopt a pet

While you shouldn’t just adopt a pet to make you feel less lonely at one specific time (e.g. Christmas), if you’re regularly feeling lonely throughout the year a pet can be a great way to combat those feelings.

If you can’t commit to a pet full time, many shelters are often looking for foster homes to help care for animals until they can be adopted.

Look after yourself

If you look after your mental and physical health, you’ll be more likely to feel positive about life and take action if you feel lonely. If you’re not feeling great generally, any negative feelings like loneliness are likely to be intensified.

Get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, avoid excessive alcohol, and exercise regularly.

Ask for help

There is no shame in asking for help. If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a loved one for support, you can call a helpline to discuss how you’re feeling or simply talk to someone and feel less alone. Some helplines you can call are

Samaritans – 116 123

CALM – 0800 58 58 58

SupportLine – 01708 765200

If you’re consistently experiencing feelings of loneliness and low mood, you may want to consider seeking professional help e.g. from a GP or counsellor.

At Shawmind, we recognise that half of all mental health problems start in school so we’re on a mission to improve mental health support for young people and reduce their mental health struggles as adults. Connect us with the head of your children’s school, donate or learn more about our #Headucation campaign.

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How to talk to children about mental health

At Shawmind, we’re on a mission to improve children’s mental health through our #Headucation campaign. 1 in 6 school aged children has a common mental health condition yet there is an average 10-year delay in getting appropriate treatment due to lack of awareness, stigma, and limited resources.

Many of these common mental health conditions in children and adolescents are treatable, but more importantly, can be prevented before they arise.

By starting conversations with children about mental health, you can help to increase their awareness, reduce stigma and fear of judgement, and increase the likelihood that they’ll seek treatment when needed sooner rather than later.

Adults can often feel uncomfortable talking to children about mental health or fear saying something “wrong”, so here are our tips for talking to children about mental health.

Pick your time

As with any serious conversation with a child, you need to pick the right time to bring it up. Allow yourself plenty of time to answer any questions they may have and make sure you’re in an environment where they feel safe opening up. If you’re a parent/carer, try to have the conversation at home when you’re not planning on leaving soon.

You should also consider the best time to catch the child in the right frame of mind for this conversation – e.g. it may be more difficult to have this conversation when the child is feeling distressed or overwhelmed by something else.

Put yourself on the same level

Nobody likes being talked down to, so try to address the child with respect and informality rather than making it seem like a lecture. It can also help to literally put yourself on the same level as the child by sitting on the floor or on a low chair to be at their eye level and seen as an equal they can trust and confide in.

Be honest

Being honest about mental health is the best way to help children build a realistic understanding of it. Let them know that mental wellbeing fluctuates depending on lots of factors and that it’s possible to have a mental health condition and still feel mentally positive. It can also help to open up about your own experiences with mental health as it makes mental health more relatable and can even make them feel more confident discussing their own mental health.

Keep it simple

Children and adolescents may find it more difficult to understand complex explanations about mental health so it’s best to keep it simple and age-appropriate. Children will likely ask questions if they think something is not clear or fully explained so don’t fear saying too little – especially with younger children. You can always build on your explanations over time as their understanding develops.

A good way to talk to children about their mental health is to ask them to rate their feelings rather than trying to find words to describe them e.g. “How well do you feel on a scale of 1-10?”. You can then follow up their answers with questions to uncover the cause of their rating.

Communicate regularly

Mental health is not a one-time occurrence and nor should your conversations be. Check in regularly with children about how they’re feeling and find opportunities to discuss mental health openly in relaxed settings. The more frequently and casually mental health is discussed, the more it becomes normalised for the child who will then likely find it easier to reach out for support when they need it.

Listen and acknowledge

The final, and arguably most important, tip we have for conversations about mental health with children is to listen to them. If you don’t give them opportunities to speak, it’s no longer a conversation.

Ask questions about their experiences and understanding of mental health and make sure you acknowledge everything they’ve said. This not only shows them that you’ve listened, but that what they feel is valid – making them more likely to trust you in the future.

There are some great resources to help children learn about and manage mental health for themselves. Why not share them after your conversations?

Our #Headucation campaign aims to provide fully-funded mental health training to teachers so that they can provide crucial mental health support to children in schools. Help us by supporting our campaign – buy a product from our store, enrol on one of our courses or donate to our fundraiser.

Donate

Training

Get in touch

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Top Men’s Mental Health Resources

The 19th November marks #InternationalMen’sDay – an opportunity to reflect on the wellbeing of men and highlight positive male role models.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. In the UK alone, 75% of suicides are male. We’ve discussed before how men face a significant amount of stigma when it comes to mental health, which often holds them back from speaking up or seeking support.

Our goal is to help everyone with mental health, regardless of age, gender or race. If you, or a man you know, is struggling with mental health, here are our top recommended resources for men to educate themselves on mental health and seek support.

CALM

CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) have a helpline and webchat you can use from 5pm to midnight 365 days of the year. CALM are dedicated to supporting men who are feeling suicidal or who need to talk for any reason. Quite accurately they proclaim “Being silent isn’t being strong.”

There is a perfect resource for men to reach out to if they need to talk to someone impartial about their mental health.

HealthUnlocked

The Shawmind HealthUnlocked community is an online forum where you can anonymously ask questions about mental health or a particular scenario you may be in. Other members of the community can respond with their tips, advice and own experiences to help you on your journey. HealthUnlocked is a free service and only requires an internet connection.

Man MOT for the Mind

The Men’s Health Forum have created the interactive manual “Man MOT for the Mind” as a simple and effective way to figure out how you’re really feeling, maintain a positive mental wellbeing, or work on improving your wellbeing.

Flourishzone

Flourishzone provides you with your own confidential world where you can develop whatever skills you like including resilience and practical mental health skills. This is a safe space for men to work on their wellbeing, in private, and at their own pace.

Get a free Flourishzone licence from Shawmind.

Men’s (Man)ual for Good Mental Health

The Men’s (Man)ual for Good Mental Health from The Skills Collective is a free guide containing tips and information that men can use to educate themselves about mental health and look after their own mental wellbeing.

Daddy Blues

Daddy Blues is a book by Mark Williams that explores male postnatal depression and fatherhood. “He had never heard of fathers going through postnatal depression, but with a baby that wouldn’t stop crying, and a wife he could no longer connect with, he felt like he was losing himself more and more each day.”

This book is ideal for men with caring responsibilities who are struggling with their mental health and don’t know what to do next. Daddy Blues provides a rarely explored perspective for fathers and male carers.

Daddy Blues publisher, Trigger Hub, are also hosting ManTalk – an International Men’s Day event focused on men’s mental health.

ManUp!

ManUp! is a UK men’s mental health podcast with Andy Richardson, Tommy Danquah and guests that aims to get men talking about mental health more. Since a big part of the men’s mental health crisis is stigma, this podcast plays a big role in normalising male conversations around mental health and giving men the confidence to speak up and seek help.

Heads Together

Heads Together also works to reduce stigma around men’s mental health. This campaign involved numerous celebrities and male role models sharing stories about their own mental health struggles as a way to tell other men that it’s ok to talk. The Heads Together YouTube channel is a great place to start if you’re not feeling confident about speaking up or if you need reassurance that your mental health struggles are a valid problem.

Once a year events like #InternationalMen’sDay and Movember are great reminders that men’s mental health needs discussing – but mental health affects people all year round. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health at any time of year, encourage them to seek help from a professional or charity immediately.

At Shawmind, we recognise that half of all mental health problems start in school so we’re on a mission to improve mental health support for young people and reduce their mental health struggles as adults. Donate or learn more about our #Headucation campaign.

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How does social media affect mental health

Social media is part of most people’s lives to some degree. In recent years, the focus has often been on the negative impact social media can have on people’s lives – but we think it’s important to acknowledge the positive and negative effects it can have on mental health, as well as how you can realistically use social media in a mentally healthy way.

Positive effects of social media on mental health

Encourages connections

One of the major selling points for social media platforms is that they enable you to connect with people anywhere in the world.

For some, this can have a positive effect on mental health by allowing them to interact with friends and loved ones regularly who they cannot see in person – this impact was highlighted particularly during COVID-19 when social media was a key source of connection for isolating families and friends.

This ability to connect with others can also benefit mental health by helping people, especially children and teenagers, to find and engage with those who have similar interests and challenges – giving them a sense of belonging and someone to talk to who may understand them better.

Facilitates mental health support

One of the first steps to getting support in any mental health journey is to talk about it – either with someone you know or with an organisation. Social media makes getting support with any challenging situation, including mental health, much easier as you can instantly connect with others and have conversations in a variety of formats depending on what suits you e.g. voice call, video call or text-based message.

Children and young people, as well as vulnerable or less confident adults, may find accessing mental health support via social media much easier and more achievable than approaching a GP or mental health professional in real life.

Helps to raise awareness and reduce stigma

Social media can be particularly effective at helping to raise awareness of mental health, encouraging open conversations and reducing stigma. With so many people regularly using social media in their daily lives, it’s one of the best ways to get mental health messages seen.

Mental health organisations like Shawmind use social media to raise awareness of mental health issues, share mental health resources for those in need of support and provide a safe space to challenge mental health stigma.

Negative effects of social media on mental health

Cyberbullying

One of the biggest problems with social media, particularly for children and young people, is cyberbullying. 1 in 5 children aged 10-15 have experienced cyberbullying which is a significant cause of mental health problems in children.

Cyberbullying is often considered more harmful than physical bullying at school since it can carry on 24/7, be spread to a wider group of people, and go undetected by parents and teachers unless raised by the bullied student.

Body image views

Another widely publicised criticism of social media is the impact it can have on body image for both adults and young people. Images are often highly edited or show someone only at their best and instil a belief in the user that they also need to achieve the same type of body as the person in the image.

While lots of work is being done in this area to combat this problem, this can still lead to adults and young people feeling as if their body is not good enough ultimately resulting in low self-esteem and, in the worst cases, eating disorders.

FOMO

While the ability to connect with others 24/7 has been beneficial for some, it has also amplified the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ (FOMO). People (both younger and older) spend hours every day on social media so that they don’t miss out on something that may interest them. This is not the individual’s fault, the social media platforms have been engineered to be addictive and keep people wanting to come back, but this excessive use is bad for both our physical and mental health.

FOMO itself can keep us from being able to rest properly in case we miss something while hours staring at a screen is not good for our eyes or brain. All of these physical effects can worsen our mental health in addition to FOMO making us feel more anxious and isolated.

Triggers

Social media content is not heavily monitored or moderated by any central agency which can make it very easy to come across posts that can trigger those with mental health conditions. Anything from a post glorifying self-harm to a distant relative making discriminatory comments can trigger someone, especially those already in a vulnerable state of mind.

Similarly to cyberbullying, this content is available 24/7 and can feel near-impossible to escape from. Particularly controversial content that receives a lot of engagement may even be shown more prominently to sensitive users as the platform algorithms work to show them the most popular posts.

How can you realistically balance mental health and social media?

Some people avoid social media altogether, but for many, this may not be an option. Here are some simple tips both adults and young people can follow to limit the negative effects of social media without avoiding it completely.

  • Follow positive influencers for your mental health
  • Use social media to check in on friends and loved ones (delete the posts from your old neighbour that only annoys you)
  • Limit the time you spend online
  • Disable notifications so you don’t get them on your phone all the time
  • Only check social media during the day so that it’s not the first or last thing you see

Learn more about social media and mental health with our online course.

Social media is an integral part of children’s and young people’s lives but they will likely face mental health challenges because of it. We’re on a mission to improve mental health support for young people by training teachers to provide early intervention and support, thereby reducing the demand on NHS mental health services like CAMHS.

Find out how you can get involved with Headucation and help us improve mental health for the next generation.

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How to spot the signs of teen mental health conditions

 

The NHS say “It can be difficult for parents to tell whether their teenagers are just “being teens” or if there is something more serious going on.”

But with 50% of all mental health conditions starting by the age of 14, it is possible that the behaviours associated with “being teens” are symptoms of mental health conditions more often than we think. This attitude towards teenage behaviour and mental health has led to increased levels of stigma, lower levels of awareness and ultimately a massive delay in treatment for mental health conditions.

At Shawmind, we’re on a mission to improve mental health support for teenagers by training teachers in the basics of mental health through our Headucation campaign.

Common mental health conditions in teenagers

Mental health conditions can develop at any age, however, some of the most common mental health conditions experienced by teenagers are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating Disorders
  • Substance Abuse & Addiction
  • Behavioural Disorders e.g. OCD or ADHD

Left untreated, these conditions can lead to self-harm and suicide.

Signs of mental health conditions in teenagers

Symptoms of mental health conditions can often overlap. A single instance of these may not always be cause for concern however if you notice multiple instances or a prolonged period of emotional and physical symptoms, you should seek help.

As a teacher or family member, you should be on the lookout for the following signs of mental health conditions in teenagers.

Signs of depression in teenagers

  • Persistent low mood
  • Frequent or easy tearfulness
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest and enthusiasm in activities they used to enjoy
  • Avoiding social situations and contact
  • Difficulties sleeping

Signs of anxiety in teenagers

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor performance at school
  • Feeling tired
  • Avoiding new situations
  • Easily angered or irritated
  • Frequent toilet visits
  • Constant worrying and negative thoughts
  • Complaining of physical pain like stomach aches and headaches
  • Emotional outbursts

Signs of eating disorders in teenagers

  • Change in eating habits
  • A rapid change in weight
  • Frequent comments about weight, food, and size
  • Secretive about eating habits
  • Reluctance to eat with others
  • Toilet visits straight after eating

Signs of substance abuse & addiction in teenagers

  • Loss of interest in activities that once interested them
  • Change in social circles
  • Criminal activities e.g. theft, and vandalism (even if only at home)
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Red eyes and bad skin

Signs of ADHD in teenagers

  • Constant fidgeting
  • Impulsiveness
  • Frequently interrupting
  • Difficulty concentrating for long periods
  • Making careless mistakes in school work

Signs of OCD in teenagers

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Intense need for order (i.e. will not deviate from the specified process)
  • Frequent checking and re-checking and need for reassurance
  • Feeling scared, disgusted or depressed

Signs of self-harm and suicidal thoughts in teenagers

  • Frequent injuries (e.g. cuts, bruises, scrapes)
  • Keeping themselves fully covered even in hot weather
  • Signs of low self-esteem, anxiety or depression
  • Isolating themselves from others

What puts teens at risk of mental health conditions

Many risk factors can lead to mental health conditions, the more factors a teenager is exposed to increases the likelihood of them developing a mental health condition.

  • Risk factors include
  • Bullying
  • Abuse
  • Bereavement
  • Difficult home situations (e.g. divorce)
  • Moving home or school
  • Parents with mental health conditions
  • Physical or developmental disabilities

How to help teens with mental health

All adults in a teenager’s life have a responsibility to spot and support their mental health. We believe teachers can be particularly effective in providing early intervention to prevent conditions from deteriorating to crisis levels. Since teachers spend a significant amount of time with teenagers at school but with enough distance to be able to quickly notice changes in behaviour or performance, with the proper mental health training teachers can provide invaluable support.

As well as looking out for the signs of mental health conditions in teenagers, you can actively work to reduce the stigma around mental health by having open conversations about it. This will normalise the concept of mental health for teenagers and make them more likely to acknowledge their symptoms and reach out when they need help. All adults can do this, regardless of whether you’re a parent, carer, friend, relative, or teacher.

One of the most important things you can do when it comes to helping teens with mental health is to refer them to an expert or expert resources. Many teenagers don’t want to go via the GP for mental health support so may prefer alternative mental health support options such as:

Read more about how to help teens with mental health

Our Headucation campaign aims to provide fully-funded mental health training to teachers so that they can provide crucial mental health support to teenagers in schools. Help us by supporting our campaign – buy a product from our store, enrol on one of our courses or donate to our fundraiser.

Read more

How to support common mental health conditions in schools

1 in 6 school-aged children develop a common mental health condition, yet at present teachers receive no training to support children’s mental health.

As part of our Headucation campaign, we’re aiming to train teachers in the basics of mental health so that they can provide early intervention to children and support the development of positive mental health.

Without sufficient training, teachers may feel unprepared to deal with common mental health conditions that children experience and that have an impact on their education. We want to help teachers to feel more confident and prepared. Here are some common mental health conditions you may see in children and some initial steps you can take to support them.

Anxiety in schools

Anxiety is incredibly common in children and may be more common in particular situations such as public speaking, demonstrations and socialising. Some children may experience anxiety so severe or frequent that it disrupts their daily lives.

Signs of anxiety in school

Some common signs of anxiety in children can include poor performance, irritability and even physical manifestations like stomach aches. Find out more about the signs of anxiety in children.

How to support anxiety in school

  1. Help children face their fears by helping them identify what is making them anxious and help them to develop strategies for coping
  2. Ask questions about previous experiences to help them uncover triggers and emotions linked to the anxiety-inducing situation
  3. Celebrate small wins with pupils when they take a step towards facing their anxiety
  4. Talk openly about anxiety with all children to reduce stigma and encourage them to seek help

ADHD in schools

ADHD describes children who demonstrate overactive and impulsive behaviours as well as difficulties concentrating and paying attention. It is thought that 2-5% of children have ADHD in the UK. Without proper support, ADHD can make it difficult for children to achieve high grades, build relationships and develop high self-esteem.

Signs of ADHD in school

Common signs of ADHD in school children include forgetfulness, difficulty focusing on and completing tasks, fidgeting and interrupting.

How to support ADHD in school

  1. Find opportunities for children to walk around the classroom during lessons, e.g. games, writing things on the whiteboard or regular breaks
  2. Give children more time to process information before responding by outlining the lesson prior to starting
  3. Break work into smaller chunks so that there is less to focus on at once
  4. Use special phrases that grab attention and stimulate interest, e.g. “wait for it”, “here we go”, or “the next part is really interesting”
  5. Develop your knowledge and understanding of ADHD with courses and training

Eating Disorders in schools

Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or background – despite the stereotypes that exist in the media. Eating disorders are often associated with severely limiting one’s food intake or purging after eating through laxatives or inducing vomiting – however it can also include eating extreme quantities of food at once, excessive fasting, excessive exercise in response to food intake or any combination of these behaviours.

Most eating disorders start in childhood or adolescence, so schools can play a crucial part in spotting the signs and providing early intervention.

Signs of eating disorders in schools

Children and young people with eating disorders may skip meals, avoid eating around others, disappear after mealtimes and even display physical symptoms of malnutrition including thinning hair and dry skin.

How to support eating disorders in schools

  1. Educate yourself about eating disorders to better understand the signs, symptoms and help available. (Why not take a look at our online course on eating disorders?)
  2. Talk openly about eating disorders to reduce stigma and encourage children to seek help
  3. Share tools and resources that children can use to access support when they need it. Beat is an incredible eating disorder charity with great support for young people.
  4. Discuss any concerns you have with your school’s safeguarding lead as well as the child’s parent/carer

Insecure attachment in schools

Attachment is a complex psychological theory around the bonds formed between children and their primary caregiver(s). Insecure attachments are formed when a child has a negative or poor bond with their caregiver that is often a result of the home environment being a source of fear rather than safety. Insecure attachments in school children can lead to disruptive behaviour and difficulty forming relationships in later life.

Signs of insecure attachment

Many children with insecure attachments do not feel safe around other people and as such may refuse to ask for help, avoid social situations and elicit inappropriate responses to emotional situations (e.g. laughing when someone is in pain).

How to support insecure attachment in schools

  1. Build positive relationships with the child that help them feel safe, enabling you to work on any behavioural issues they display
  2. Engage with other adults in their life to understand what is causing the child to feel this way
  3. Discuss the attachment issues with a professional or undertake training in attachment theory

Depression and low mood in school

It is normal for a child (or adult) to not feel 100% happy all the time and to experience times when they feel irritable with little pleasure of motivation. However, if someone feels this way consistently for longer than two weeks, they may be suffering with depression or low mood.

Signs of depression in school

Depression can be caused by many factors including bullying and exam stress – common signs of depression in children include irritability, not wanting to attend school and losing interest in things they once enjoyed.

How to support depression in schools

  1. Educate yourself so that you can fully understand how children with depression may feel and act
  2. Signpost to professional resources that can help children understand their own mental health
  3. Express an interest in how they are feeling so that they know they can talk to you (or another member of staff they may feel more comfortable with)
  4. Share any concerns with other wellbeing leaders within the school who can take the appropriate next steps

Take a look at our online self-led course Understanding Depression or get in touch to discuss mental health training for teachers through #Headucation.

Teachers and schools play a vital role in the support of mental health conditions in children but they need more help to do it effectively. Help us raise money for Headucation so we can provide fully-funded mental health training to schools that will enable their teachers to act as first responders and support children in the early stages of mental health conditions.

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How can young people get mental health support

Young people need mental health support more than ever. Help us make it better by supporting our Headucation campaign.

50% of all mental health problems start by the age of 14 (with 1 in 6 school-aged children having a common mental health condition) but there is an average 10-year delay between showing the first signs and getting appropriate treatment.

According to research, the most common reason young people had for not seeking support was ‘not feeling like their problem was bad enough’. Because of this sentiment, it’s not surprising that nearly 70% of young people would prefer to not have to go through a GP for mental health problems but only 50% are aware of other routes.

Even when teenagers are referred to specialist mental health services such as CAMHS, they are often rejected or made to join a long waiting list as these services are massively overstretched.

It’s clear that young people need more mental health support alternatives to the GP and NHS providers.

How can young people get mental health support without a GP?

Mental health organisations for young people

Many organisations offer great advice and resources for young people struggling with their mental health that can be accessed for free online and therefore require no referral from a GP.

There are also several great books on mental health available from Trigger Publishing that can help young people to learn useful techniques and draw from others’ experiences with mental health.

Mental health support in schools and workplaces

Many of the problems around young people’s mental health support come down to a lack of knowledge, a lack of accessibility and existing stigma around the topic. We can overcome these issues by making mental health support available within schools and young people’s workplaces.

Training a Mental Health First Aider or providing basic mental health training to staff can help to:

  • Increase awareness of the causes of mental health problems in young people
  • Spot the early warning signs of mental health problems in young people
  • Provide early intervention and initial support
  • Signpost to appropriate professional mental health support services when needed

Our Headucation campaign aims to provide fully-funded mental health training to teachers so that they can provide this mental health support to young people in schools.

All proceeds from our workplace mental health training programmes go straight into our Headucation fund.

Mental health peer support groups

Peer support groups are the perfect way for young people to support each other with mental health, normalise the conversation and reduce stigma for future generations.

Mental health peer support can take place in person or online and are offered by many mental health organisations

Mental Health Helplines

Young people must know about a few mental health helplines so that they can access support in critical times or outside of other organised support events.

By helping young people to access alternatives to GP mental health support, we can reduce the number of young people in need of intense clinical support and enable professional services to provide fast and efficient critical support for those who still need it.

Help us improve mental health support for young people by supporting our Headucation campaign – buy a product from our store, enrol on one of our courses or donate to our fundraiser.

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6 tips for socialising without alcohol

As a nation, Brits are renowned drinkers. Many of our social activities tend to revolve around drinking alcohol, pubs, bars and clubs. The drinking culture we have in Britain can make it hard for those avoiding alcohol to still be social without feeling like an outsider or even pressured to drink. Removing yourself from social situations completely can impact your wellbeing given how integral socialising is to building and maintaining positive mental health.

Some choose to forgo alcohol for personal or religious reasons, whilst others may be battling problems with alcohol or alcoholism. Many people forget (especially those who don’t struggle with alcohol) that alcoholism and other substance addictions are serious and challenging mental health conditions that need the appropriate support from those around them. But many people don’t want to sacrifice their social habits which means that sober people can often feel excluded.

But it’s not impossible to maintain a social life without. This is a perfect opportunity for us to share some tips for those with a difficult relationship with alcohol to maintain a healthy, sober social life.

1. Find alternative activities

If you can find other ways to spend time with people besides drinking, you will find it much easier to have an enjoyable social life without alcohol. Rather than going to a club for your birthday, why not try an activity like paintballing or a trip to the cinema? These activities don’t always have to be completely alcohol-free either – you can simply find ways to minimise the emphasis that will be placed on alcohol. Instead of going to the pub for dinner, find a restaurant where the focus will primarily be on the food.

It helps to have a couple of good options on hand for when people suggest something you think could be difficult for you. Figure out what activities you enjoy and what’s on offer locally so that you can always make a counter-suggestion if needed.

2. Find alternative drinks

While it may seem obvious to find something non-alcoholic to drink when staying sober, the key is to find something you genuinely enjoy drinking so that alcohol becomes less appealing. This can also make it easier to attend the same social gatherings as usual since you’ll have an alternative drink to look forward to. This can be a standard soft drink, speciality alcohol-free option (like mocktails) or even a hot drink. Try a few things out and see what you like.

3. Learn to say ‘no’

The people-pleasing part of many of us can make it difficult to say no to people when they ask us to do something or offer us something.

But it’s very unlikely that a situation will arise when refusing to drink alcohol will have catastrophic consequences – if anything, it’s likely to have the opposite effect in the long term.

Get used to saying ‘no’ by continuously turning down offers for drinks (or alcohol-centred social events if you find them challenging). You could even engineer this by having a friend who knows what you’re trying to do and get them to continuously offer you drinks so you can practice.

At the start of your sober journey there will always be questions about why you’re not drinking or why you won’t have ‘just one’. In this situation, you’ll massively benefit from having some prepared responses to decrease the chance of you being talked into drinking. Here are some examples:

  • “I just feel better when I don’t drink”
  • “I’m not feeling great and don’t want to make it worse”
  • “I had a bad experience a while back and I’ve been put off since then”
  • “My doctor said I can’t drink for a little while”

These don’t always have to be completely true, sometimes you just need a way to get people to drop the subject and move on.

If someone keeps pushing you and seems intent on getting you to drink, Mark Willenbring, an addiction psychiatrist, suggests asking “does my not drinking make you uncomfortable?” as this will often get them to immediately stop and reflect on their actions.

4. Prepare your friends and family

If you feel comfortable opening up to your loved ones about your choice to stop drinking, it will make it easier for you to avoid alcohol in social situations. They’ll be less likely to offer you alcohol (which means you don’t have to feel awkward about saying ‘no’) and may actively try to find non-alcohol-centred social events for you to go to.

Similarly to when saying ‘no’, you don’t have to tell everyone the whole story if you don’t feel comfortable with it. Keeping it simple and saying “I feel better when I don’t drink” is absolutely fine!

5. Have a sober network

We can probably all agree that it’s easier to stick to any commitment when there is more than one person involved. Arrange social events with other people who are sober or invite a sober friend along to other social events to help you stay away from alcohol. If you can’t bring them along, you can send them a message or give them a call with things get tough.

If you don’t have someone who is actively trying to avoid alcohol, ask for help from someone you trust who can help you stay away from alcohol.

6. Find healthy ways to respond to triggers

Some people drink when happy, some drink when they’re stressed and others drink for a variety of reasons. Take some time to identify why you drink so that you can prepare alternative ways to respond to that situation.

Drinking when stressed? Try going for a walk.

Drinking in celebration? Why not go out for afternoon tea?

Knowing what your triggers are can also help you avoid them – but we know it’s not always a realistic long-term strategy.

It’s not impossible to maintain a social life while battling alcoholism – but it might take some work.

Sometimes your social life will change as a result of becoming sober, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse. Often, going sober can help you spend more quality time with your friends and family, build stronger relationships and allow you to feel better both mentally and physically.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, reach out to Drinkaware.

Want to find out more about the mental health side and implications of additions like alcoholism? Take a look at our mental health awareness courses covering a range of mental health conditions and how you can spot and support those struggling.

All funds from our courses go directly into our Headucation campaign that aims to improve mental health in children and young people by training teachers in the basics of mental health support.

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