Young people mostly get their information about mental ill-health from the media. It is no surprise then that young people believe that there’s a strong link between mental health problems and violence and think that ‘mad’ people get locked away in institutions. Wrong on both counts, but these are just two of the myths that discourage help-seeking and fuel stigma against people with mental health problems, whatever their age.
Stigma and young people
Stigma takes many forms. Young people can find themselves ignored, avoided, ridiculed or bullied at a time when they need understanding and support. Fear of other people’s reactions is often the single biggest obstacle to coming forward for help.
Stigmatising language (psycho, loony, nutter etc) is no more acceptable than racist language. Bullying someone because of mental ill-health is as damaging as any other kind of bullying so you should deal with it in justthe same way.
What is a mental health problem?
‘Mental health problems’ (or mental ill-health) is a phrase that covers a wide range of symptoms and experiences. It can refer to conditions as diverse as depression, anxiety, phobias, eating disorders, self-harm and schizophrenia. Anyone can go through a period of mental ill-health and one in four of us will do so in the course of our lives. (Click here for Factsheets on mental health diagnosis)
What is your role?
Some young people might come forward to confide in you about their own difficulties for the first time. As a trusted adult, your role is first of all to listen and to give reassurance. It may be that the young person just needs someone to talk to. He or she may want support to get some information which can help them better understand what they are feeling or doing. Others might need to be encouraged to visit a school counsellor, talk to parents or visit their GP. You may need to take advice yourself on where best to direct them. (click here for useful links)
If you are worried that a young person is very troubled and is either unable or unwilling to speak to anyone else when you are not around, make sure that they have the details of ChildLine and Samaritans. Young people often find the ability to talk about their problems without having to be identified very helpful.
Work in schools
If you are a teacher or work with young people in any capacity you may be interested in the Positive Mental Attitudes Curriculum Pack. The pack is designed for 1st year to 6th year pupils and aims to improve awareness and attitudes to mental ill-health and positive mental wellbeing. Available to download (click here) the pack is accompanied by video clips that contain personal stories and scenarios.
• Young people who self-harm are not attention seeking; they are trying to cope with underlying problems
• Young people find it difficult to talk to adults about self-harming, so it’s important to listen carefully when they do
• Stay calm, listen carefully and try not to be judgemental
• Talking about their problems and being listened to empowers young people to take positive steps towards dealing with their problems
• If you feel out of your depth, don’t be afraid to ask other adults or professionals for advice