Words: Libby Shaw
Photography: Cameron Bell
It is common knowledge that the phenomenon of ‘word of mouth’ is something respected for its great influence. In its most positive form it can act as verbal wildfire, dispersing ideologies, business plans, societal shifts and reducing stigmas. Its prominence within society is undeniable and it brings to light the effectivity and value of human to human communication. Yet despite knowing that we can harness this ability and the impact of togetherness, we still struggle to discuss something that in our lifetimes will affect one in four of us: our mental health. Consider then that 1 in 10 children struggle with mental health issues but 7 in 10 do not get the help they need. An unsettling picture is painted of a demographic following suit and feeling unable to express themselves for the same fears as their adult counterparts, most commonly, stigmatisation.
I got in touch with Helen Mason, founder of the ‘Open Minds’ counselling service located in Doncaster town centre, to ask her a little more about the most common patterns when dealing with the emotional wellbeing of Doncaster’s youth:
“In terms of trends, we see with teenagers, an increase in anxiety around school and especially the external trappings of success such as ‘Love Island levels’ of beauty and relationship behaviours, which of course in both cases are unhealthy and unrealistic.”
This rings true with recent findings from The Prince’s Trust who reported a drop in its happiness index amongst adolescents from 73 in 2009 to 69 this year, the lowest yet. Many believe that social media is to blame. For large numbers of young people, easily accessible platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are breeding grounds for self-comparisons to unrealistic and photoshopped people and lifestyles. This leads to feelings of inadequateness and stress which can touch all aspects of their lives. Helen adds, “also, teenagers who have been subject to their parents persistently being in and out of abusive relationships, so that the teens themselves struggle with understanding healthy and safe relationship behaviours, and have the belief that they themselves are not good enough to be chosen first and foremost by their parents.”
She continues, “Parents are then inadvertently sending their child the message that
1) such relationships are normal
2) such relationships are all both the child and the parents deserve and
3) the parent values the abusive relationship/s more than they value giving the child a safe and happy life.
As a result we see a lot of teenagers whose self-worth is incredibly low, and their belief that the world will treat them well is simply not there. That means increased suicidal thinking, self-harm and aggressive behaviours in many cases.”.
According to a 2019 nationwide YouGov survey, a startling 18% of young people in the UK feel that life is not worth living. With anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts being some of the most prevalent mental health issues amongst today’s adolescents, ‘Open Minds’ are meeting increasing demands by introducing a ‘Saturday Space Group’ session, beginning in September. The additional day will act as a more casual alternative to direct counselling, where teens can come and feel no pressure to do anything other than what they feel like; they can relax and read, listen to music, get stuck in with arts and crafts and if they wish to, they can speak to one of the two group leaders present throughout the session.
However, even before the introduction of this additional session, Open Minds have already had a huge impact on the children that they have helped. On the ‘Basic Feedback Report of April – March 2019’ generated by Open Minds, a reported 85% of clients under 17 had issues with anxiety/stress, 56% were suicidal, 44% had issues with self-harming and 41% were depressed. After receiving support from Open Minds, clients were asked if they felt a difference in themselves and between 96-100% of those asked experienced improved psychological well-being, reduced suicidal thinking and reduced self-harming.
For many people, the mantra ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ bothers them. Why share an issue if it’s going to become someone else’s? But by that logic, no-one should tell anyone anything for fear of imposing on them. Opening up a dialogue about struggles with your mental health can be as simple as saying ‘I don’t feel okay’. But there are ways of communicating your feelings without having to have a frank one on one: simple gestures, body language, and one might even let your loved ones know by word of mouth