When I work with young people and teenagers I try to explore what they are trying to communicate, what it is they are struggling with but unable to tell anyone or even themselves. I’ve noticed young people can find communicating their issues very challenging, especially to adults (including parents).
My job as a counsellor is to build a good enough rapport with the young person to help them to feel safe enough to explore their feelings with me. I find it is important not to push a young person to open up but let it come naturally as they feel more comfortable.
Counselling can be extremely effective in helping young people talk through problems and access wider support if necessary and it is widely accepted that getting help early on can be extremely effective in preventing problems getting worse and leading to more complex, ingrained problems in later life.
According to The Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 10 children and young people (under 25 Years) will experience mental health problems. Although young people can experience the full range of mental health problems that affect adults they are more likely to experience problems in the following areas: depression, self-harm, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders.
Sometimes these problems become so severe that young people require specialist help or admission to hospital, but many can be treated effectively in the community with counselling services. Treating problems early can ensure a full recovery and avoid problems becoming more severe in later life.
Research has shown that some young people are more at risk of developing mental health problems than others. Some of the factors that can place a young person at risk are: dealing with a long term physical illness, being the child of a parent who has their own mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems or who has trouble with the law, particularly if the young person is also a carer for them or their siblings.
Other factors that can have a severe impact on the mental well-being of a young person are: experiencing bullying or any form of emotional, sexual or physical abuse including discrimination because of race, sexuality or religion, the divorce or separation of parents, living in poverty and long term educational problems.
Who can help?
Parents are normally the most important resource for young people. If they are able to listen to and support their child in a safe environment, parents can provide the best support available. There are many sources of advice and support for parents dealing with young peoples mental health problems (e.g. familylives.org).
However, sometimes it is not appropriate or possible for parents to provide support, they may be too emotionally involved or the relationship might be part of the problem, or the problems may have become too severe for the parent to deal with. In these cases, it is important to get help from medical or social services via the family doctor.
Sometimes doctors can prescribe medication to help with mental health problems but increasingly there is a wide range of counselling services available to young people through both public and private channels. It is very common for these services to be provided via the school/college system or not-for-profit organisations such as ARC.
Young people can also see a counsellor privately but it is important to check that the counsellor has a qualification or experience in working with young people. You should only see a counsellor who is a member of a professional body like The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and that way you can ensure they have been approved to work with young people and offer the appropriate confidential service.
Counsellors who work with young people are able to distinguish between the varied difficulties that young people face, such as the impact of physical changes e.g. puberty, coping with relationship issues including those caused by increasing social media pressure and adapting to life changes, for example, the transition from school to college or university. They are also able to identify when problems are signs of something more severe, such as an underlying depression for example. They aim to provide a safe and confidential environment in which young people can explore their problems and develop effective coping skills.
Finally, it is important to recognise that experiencing mental health problems is very common and it is widely accepted that 1 in 4 people will experience a diagnosable mental health problem each year (NHS Statistics 2007) and that sometimes the consequences of these mental health problems can be very serious. There is currently a great deal of concern about the increased suicide rates for young men in the UK (NHS Statistics 2016), so taking mental health seriously is very important.