The Importance of Talking to Kids About Mental Health

health

Helen Bashford, author of Perry Panda, has experience working in the mental health field, most recently as Carers Lead for a Mental Health Trust, providing support for families. In this article, Helen discusses the need to talk to children about mental health, and the benefits of drip feeding them information. 

We have all heard it by now, that 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness at some point in their life.  This statistic means that every child – every single one – will know someone experiencing mental ill health, if not now then in the future.  There’s also a 25% chance they will become ill themselves.  In families where a parent or sibling is ill, children have to live with the disruption mental illness can cause, and childhood is rife with issues such as bullying that can leave children vulnerable.  Research now shows that half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24 (Mental Health Foundation).  So, when we think about how to prevent mental illness we probably need to think about childhood.

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Why We Need to Break the Silence Around Suicide, Especially for our Children

Louise Moir explains why she wrote Rafi’s Red Racing Car, details her own experiences, and expresses the need for a breakdown in the stigma that surrounds mental illness and suicide.

I lost my husband to suicide in 2011 following his brief decline into mental ill health that was triggered by a job redundancy. My sons were aged 4 ½ and nineteen months. Rafi’s Red Racing Car is the book that I wished I’d had at that time to help me with the terribly painful and bewildering task of trying to explain to my boys what had happened to their Daddy.

Before their father’s suicide, my children had not yet experienced death of any kind, so they had absolutely no understanding. I quickly learnt that their grief was too raw and overwhelming for them to be able to tolerate me talking directly about the tragedy that had enveloped us all. Very young children are very visual and respond well to explanations in pictorial or metaphoric realms. I found a wealth of good, age appropriate books that helped to explain death and the emotions that surround loss and these helped tremendously. Identifying with the character in the book who was experiencing similar events and emotions to themselves enabled my sons to externalise their own feelings, begin to understand their experience and led to them asking me questions about their own loss.

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Suffering from the January Blues? Here’s how to beat them

BluesJanuary is generally known as the month when the weather takes a turn for the worse, people have overindulged at Christmas, money is tight and it tends to be a month of feeling low. The January Blues are real and sufferers seem to be varied. There isn’t a particular type of person who feels the January Blues, it can be anyone! Claire Eastham has some advice on how to beat the blues this January and to make it to February with your sanity intact. If you want more advice on how to improve your mental health, check out her book We’re All Mad Here.

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A sneak peek into Luna’s Red Hat

It is spring. Luna is in the park, wearing her Mum’s red hat. The sun is shining, but today is not a day for feeling sunny: it was a year ago today that Luna’s mum committed suicide. Fear, anger, and guilt are just some of the emotions that Luna is coping with. Luckily, her Dad is there to help Luna with her emotions and questions.

 

An extract from Luna's Red Hat

An extract from Luna’s Red Hat

Emmi Smid is a children’s book author and illustrator. She was born in the Netherlands but currently lives and works in Brighton, UK. Emmi wrote Luna’s Red Hat for her cousins, who would have wanted to have a book like this when they were younger.

Why Neuroscience for Counsellors?

Rachal Zara Wilson is a counsellor, social worker and author of the new Neuroscience for CounsellorsWe caught up with her for a quick chat about the book and why she wanted to write about such a complex topic. 

1.  Who do you think would benefit from reading this book?

Definitely counsellors, but also any other therapists as well.  The book is designed so that it has sections where the neuroscience is explained, and separate sections for counsellors and other therapists with suggestions on how to use this knowledge for the benefit of their clients in the session room.

Families of people who are experiencing mental health dysfunction may also be interested in the knowledge contained in this book, and also in the implications for how they can support their loved ones.

2.  Why did you write this book? Wilson_Neuroscience-fo_978-1-84905-488-1_colourjpg-print

I’ve always been interested in neuroscience; the brain is so fascinating and amazing, and capable of so much more than we’ve always been led to believe.  And of course, as a counsellor working with people, how the brain works has always been top of my mind.  The final motivator was having a child who was experiencing problems with their mental health, and I guess I just hoped to find something that would help him and others in a similar situation during the course of my research.

3.  So what’s so exciting about what you learned?

Probably the most exciting thing would be the brain’s capacity to change itself, known as brain plasticity.  The brain isn’t static, it’s more like a dynamic organ that is constantly changing for better or worse.  And what we do plays a huge part in how it changes.  How much stress we’re under, what we eat, the quality of our sleep, whether we exercise and how much, our living environments, and the presence or absence of early trauma in our lives are some of the things that contribute to the way our brain functions, and to its capacity for change, or plasticity.  I guess the most exciting thing is that we have control over this plasticity to a large degree, and we can therefore improve the quality of our brain function, our health and our lives.

4. Why don’t we know this stuff already?

Because neuroscience is a field in its infancy.  There’s a lot of learning coming through, but much of it’s wrapped up in scientific jargon, making it inaccessible to those of us who are not scientists.  And because there’s lots of different levels of looking at the brain, (both micro and macro,) different neuroscience specialties do not always integrate their specialist knowledge.  I think the benefit of this book is that it integrates the neuroscience into an overall big picture, while also drawing on this resource to come up with practical ways for integrating it into therapy.  It hasn’t been done before because it’s new, because it’s complex, and because integrating neuroscience with counselling and other therapies requires a knowledge of both fields.  I believe that in the future, all practitioners providing talking therapies are going to need to understand what neuroscience offers our professions, or risk becoming irrelevant.

5.  Why put it in a book?

This knowledge is meant to be shared.  All counsellors and therapeutic practitioners want best outcomes for their clients, and the more knowledge we have that can help people make positive change in their lives, the better.

6.  Is it complicated?

The neuroscience is complex, but the book is designed so that people who just want to know what it means for their practice can just read those sections, while those who want to understand how it all works can read up on the explanations for how all the scientific evidence fits together.  The book is written in the plainest English possible, and there is a glossary and diagrams at the back to help you fit it all together.

You can find out more about the book, read reviews and order your copy here.

Browse our latest collection of new and bestselling titles in counselling and psychotherapy

Here are our new and bestselling titles in counselling and psychotherapy. For more information on any of the books inside, simply click the title or cover image to view the full book page.

Introduction to the Psychology of Ageing for Non-Specialists – a free extract.

Stuart-Hamilton_Introduction-to_978-1-84905-363-1_colourjpg-printIn this extract from the Introduction to the Psychology of Ageing for Non-Specialists author Professor Ian Stuart-Hamilton explains a little about the idea behind this edition and the audience he wrote it for.

For a free sneak peek, just click the link below to read the preface from the book.

An Introduction to the Psychology of Ageing – preface

You can find out more about the book, read reviews and order your copy here.

Assessing emotional awareness after trauma

Grasso_Clinical-Exerci_978-1-84905-949-7_colourjpg-webThis extract taken from Clinical Exercises for Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents by Damion J. Grasso gives practical guidance to assessing and enhancing a child’s emotional awareness and vocabulary prior to therapeutic exposure.
‘These skills are essential for fully engaging in the therapeutic exposure and for processing the emotional content of the trauma memory.’

Read the extract here

 

Preparation for Independence—Is Your Student Ready for a New School Year?

Christy Oslund, Co-ordinator of Student Disability Services in the Dean of the Students’ Office at Michigan Technological University, shares helpful tips for parents on preparing students for a new school year and future independence.

Preparation for Independence

As students gear up for another year of school—perhaps even their last year or two before heading off to college or other independent goals—families tend to get caught up in last minute preparations. Do they have adequate school supplies, is it time to buy a scientific calculator, what will the schedule look like for classes and for after school activities? It is easy to get buried in details.

We need to remind ourselves to step back and remember the big picture. We need to help our students be prepared not just for the immediate school term but for the future when they will be required to live more independently. Consider the following questions:

  • Is my child able to take their medication reliably without reminders?
  • Does my child know how to wash their own laundry?
  • Could my child go shopping alone and find their own basic necessities?
  • Have we practiced the child getting up and ready for school without assistance/wake-up calls?
  • Has my child learned to shop for and cook a few simple meals?
  • Can my child wash up after preparing a meal?

Until a person has had the opportunity to practice all these steps towards independence, he or she is not really ready for life away from home, whether that be in a trade school, college, university, or first job. Particularly with high functioning children who are very smart, we can easily forget how important these other day to day life skills are for the young person to grow into a successful adult. Rather than trying to take on teaching all of these skills at once, consider working on them one at a time. It will depend on your child which of these steps will come easiest and which will require the most work.

Consider starting with the step that is likely to be the least difficult for the individual child you are working with, so that your student can build on success as they approach the next goal. If for example, your child is naturally starting to get up in the morning for school, allow that to become an independent activity where he or she is responsible for getting out of the home on time. Realize that this may mean that your child will be late a few times; this is the price that has to be paid in helping your student work towards independence. Once your child leaves home, there will not be anyone getting them out the door on time and this is a skill that is best learned before they are expected to act like an adult.

On the other hand, if your child has shown an interest in cooking, help them identify a few simple meals they would like to cook. Take them shopping and walk them through the process of choosing ingredients for the meal, paying, taking home the shopping, and preparation. For young people who find that process very involved, you may want to make clean up after the meal a separate lesson and learning opportunity.

Remember that almost everyone finds the most effective way to learn is to be given a chance for practice, with necessary explanation/information being provided by someone who has more experience with the skill being learned. If one wants to learn to milk a cow, one would look for a dairy farmer who has experience with milking; if one wants to learn to cook a meal, it helps if the person teaching has cooked before.

At the same time, parents and guardians can show the willingness to learn new skills themselves. If no one in the home is practiced at cooking a meal then helping the child prepare by learning this skill together—perhaps in a basic cooking class, or from a beginners cook book—demonstrates that learning new skills is always possible, and often necessary, no matter what stage we are at in life. By learning side by side with your child, you can demonstrate how to solve problems along the way:

  • How will we prepare for shopping?
  • How do we choose ingredients?
  • How do we decide which pan to use?
  • How can we tell if the heat we are using is too hot or not hot enough?

When more mature family members demonstrate how to solve problems as they are encountered, they also set another example that the child can learn from and call on later in life.

A new school year is an exciting, anxiety producing time of year. It is also a reminder that a child is continuing to grow towards eventual independence. Being mindful to include education and practice with the life skills needed outside of school is just as important as helping a child academically prepare for their future. Just as we wouldn’t expect a child to spontaneously start reading without previous education just because they have left home, we cannot expect them to suddenly know other life skills such as cooking, or getting up without reminders, just because they’ve moved. Use each day to practice these steps towards independence and you can ensure that your child has all the skills necessary to be successful.

Christy is the author of  Succeeding as a Student in the STEM Fields with an Invisible Disability: A College Handbook for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Students with Autism, ADD, Affective Disorders, or Learning Difficulties and their Families and the forthcoming  Supporting College and University Students with Invisible Disabilities: A Guide for Faculty and Staff Working with Students with Autism, AD/HD, Language Processing Disorders, Anxiety, and Mental Illness both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Identify the signs of OCD at school

Jassi_Can-I-tell-you_978-1-84905-381-5_colourjpg-webAmita Jassi, author of ‘Can I tell you about OCD?’ explains some of the common obsessions and compulsions experienced by people with the disorder and how this could effect children at school.

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterised by unpleasant and recurring thoughts, images, doubts or urges (called obsessions) and repetitive and irrational behaviours (called compulsions). Compulsions, also known as rituals, may be observable behaviours (such as washing or tapping) or mental rituals (such as thinking a good thought to cancel out a bad thought). Compulsions are usually carried out as a way of reducing the distress caused by obsessions. OCD takes many different forms and can range from mild to severe. When children are troubled by OCD they can experience very high levels of anxiety and distress and find that it can take up a lot of their time.

Some common obsessions are:

  • Fears about dirt or contamination
  • Worries about harm coming to yourself or others
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts
  • Thoughts about doing something forbidden or embarrassing
  • Discomfort if things are not symmetrical or even
  • Needing to tell, ask or confess
  • Fears of losing important things

Some common compulsions are:

  • Checking things over and over again
  • Touching or tapping things
  • Seeking reassurance
  • Hoarding or collecting things that are useless
  • Arranging things so that they are ‘just right’
  • Washing and cleaning
  • Counting, repeating and re-doing things

The good news is that OCD can be successfully treated and recent evidence shows that the sooner it is tackled the better the treatment outcomes are likely to be.  The recommended treatment for OCD by the Department of Health is a talking therapy called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It is also recognised that some children may also benefit from treatment with medication from the group called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (or SSRIs). It is clear therefore that young people should not have to struggle with OCD without any support and treatment. The UK’s largest charity for OCD, OCD Action, wants young people, their parents and their school to take action now.

What are the signs of OCD at School?

OCD can affect many areas of a young person’s life, including school life. It is important to remember that OCD affects people in many ways however some of the signs that you may observe in school include:

  • Poor attention and concentration due to distraction from unwanted thoughts or the need to perform rituals
  • Extreme tiredness due to being up late at night doing rituals or the overall exhaustion caused by the constant battle with OCD
  • Frequent or prolonged toilet visits due to completing cleaning rituals
  • An inability to touch objects, materials or other people due to possible contamination fears
  • Excessive questioning and need for reassurance
  • Messy work due to having to repeat rituals such as rewriting or erasing words
  • Repeated lateness as a result of being delayed by rituals
  • Late handing in work due to being slowed down by obsessions and/or compulsions
  • Arranging items on a desk, shelf or classroom so that objects are aligned
  • Repetitive behaviours such as getting up and down from a desk or opening and closing the door
  • Low self-esteem and difficulty with peer relationships
  • Reduction in grades or decline in school performance

It may also be helpful to be aware that OCD can be associated with other disorders such as depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and Tourette Syndrome.

Where else can I find information about OCD?

For more information on OCD and young people, see ‘Can I tell you about OCD?’ or refer to the OCD Action website: www.ocdaction.org.uk or OCD-UK: www.ocduk.org