Early in 2017 we hosted a couple of meetings, of like minded people who are deeply concerned and passionate about supporting (initially, particularly) young girls (but this has widened to all young people) in a culture and society where they are under ever more pressure. It is being reflected in terrifying statistics and news stories about Mental Health issues, particularly in young girls. Here is one such article from the BBC. And another from Childwise. But recently research has shown worrying tendancies in boys too, so it seems most helpful to talk about general mental health and wellbeing issues.
And this article about sleep highlights some of the mental health and wider issues facing young people and their parents. This article discusses the inadequacies of sex and relationship education in schools
There continue to be many others on an almost daily basis in the media…
Whilst these figures and stories give us cause for worry and concern, already there seems to be a very positive ground swell of people doing something about this, which was why we decided to call a get-together to see if we can be stronger together.
We found local groups setting up sessions and workshops designed to build young people’s self esteem, support them and help them to face all that the world and the media throws at them. Subsequently we have drawn in a number of experts, professionals, interested parties and others to add to the debate, highlight resources, train, educate and share what we are discovering and learning together, and we began looking at mental health and well being for all young people and their families and peers (the discussion is ever-changing and reacting almost daily to events in the media, responses from agencies, government, churches and researchers).
This has been taken on by a local collective of health, education and church professionals looking more widely at issues and solutions (not necessarily focussed on Youth) in a number of Symposiums led by the Chaplain at St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton, Rev Philip Evans.
One of the outcomes of our first meeting was that we needed a place to collate some of the many wider initiatives, events and resources that are already out there.
So here it is! It is just a beginning, so please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) to point me towards other useful items that I can keep adding to this page. You may also like to join our email group, to contribute to the ongoing conversation.
Please share this page and use as a resource to help you in your work with young people today, who are struggling with their well-being in any way.
Resources//Events// Discussion Points//Links
There are a lot of resources, links and charities out there who are doing much to tackle mental health issues in children and young people, including Young Minds, Action for Happiness and locally Ask Normen as well as more well known Childline and Samaritans (specifically for young people).
A brilliant online resource by popular Manchester musician Lily Jo who is also a trained Counsellor: The Lily Jo Project is a really good mix of advice, stories, links, resources and music to help young people to help themselves or take a first step towards recovery. A really good page to share with your young people.
With a directly Christian perspective:
The Church of England’s Resources Website Going for Growth has lots of links and articles on this subject.
Over in Ely, there is an annual Christian well-being conference for girls called Shine
As part of low self esteem, eating disorders can be a huge problem. A great resource is Taste Life
Pacesetter Sports are a local well-being charity with a strong Christian base. They do courses and sessions on Mental Health First Aid and specifically on girls’ self esteem. Find out more HERE
Recently we hosted a night on pornography awareness, sexting and online safety by the Naked Truth as part of their “PG tour“, we are hoping to book them to come to the South Northants region. It was an excellent evening on a subject just as relevant for girls as boys.
Here is a page that they have produced about the pressures of social media and how to tackle them.
The Girls Brigade have put together a great vlog page for girls called the Koko Story – a brilliant site.
The Mental Health Access Pack is a page with lots of useful information for churches to engage with general mental health issues – it looks like a hugely valuable resource.
It was felt during our discussions that Social Media gives opportunities for damaging young girls in ways that are new and often very scary for parents and youth leaders to think about. But being informed is vital. Webwise is a really useful site to gain information on the many social media platforms that are arriving every day (in this case “teen dating” app “Yellow”).
The Souster Youth Trust working with the Gen2 Team have held several one-off training events on mental health in young people, and issues like child trafficking or self-harm. Well-being, mental health and related issues have also been and will continue to be addressed regularly at Youth Ministry Training, the monthly Youth specialists’ training evenings (re-starting in September 2019).
We have also been offered a 10 week course on building self confidence and self esteem called the I Am Project. If anyone is interested in piloting the course with a small group, get in touch with us.
Another new initiative that might be of interest for your young girls, particularly tweenagers is Dance Worship. A dance graduate, Chelsea, whose final year dissertation was on dance and worship is keen to run sessions with young people. If you think your young people would enjoy this, then let us know!
Some of the exciting and encouraging local projects for girls include the Sunday Salon at Whitefriars Church, Rushden, where women and girls are welcomed to a free pampering session for hair, nails etc., Plus Self Esteem workshops for tweenager girls and their mums based out of Grange Park Church.
The most recent edition of the excellent long-running Child of Our Time series offers some interesting insights into the teenage brain and current pressures and issues for today’s 16 year olds, with a very positive, though realistic viewpoint that is encouraging.
YMCA are researching and offering support, training and mentoring/counselling in schools and in the community. They have recently run a national campaign Be Real promoting healthy body image and self esteem.
Similarly Christian band, Daughters of Davis launched a campaign #NotPlayingTheGame about changing attitudes to unattainable beauty, unrealistic expectations and self esteem issues. Their music has positive messages for young girls in particular.
There is much much more out there, keep checking back, keeping us up to date…
The controversial Netflix show Thirteen Reasons Why received a lot of media attention on release, and then, less so with Season 2, but issues of teen suicide are still very relevant.
The CofE’s National Youth and Children’s Officer, Mary Hawes, shared this blog (long, from America (with all the cultural references and differences that entails) but worth reading and responding to):
I found this post on Facebook about the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons. It may be helpful for youth workers (or parents) as they process their response to the series in the light of teenage suicide. But I also found point 11 interesting – how do we help young people not to be excluding, or to express their concerns about others?
The author is Christina Clarke, a Family Minister in an episcopal church in the States, and she was happy for me to share it.
Thirteen Reasons Why We Need to Talk about This Book and Series
Disclosure: I am a Family Minister and a mom of 2 boys, ages 14 and 10. I’ve worked with children my entire adult life and with teens for many years. I love teenagers. I love their noise, their laughter, their rolling eyes, their messiness, and their sudden emergence as young adults. Teenagers trust me. They tell me their problems. They share their hurt and fear and anxiety and stress with me. Sometimes they want me to fix it; mostly they just want to know I’m listening and I care. That said, I am not a social worker. I have no license to practice psychology nor psychiatry. Conversations with youth and parents about this subject should absolutely include consultation with mental health professionals. My research for this piece comes from mad Google search skills. The following is based entirely on my experience, my dedication to youth and children, and my faith-filled recognition of what God requires of me.
1. Our kids already know about “Thirteen Reasons Why.”
Most of them have read, are reading, or will read the book. Most of them have watched, are watching, or will watch the series. They will even watch the horrific scene in which Hannah Baker takes her own life. This scene will fascinate some of them; they may watch it repeatedly and even fantasize about doing the same thing or something like it. Pretending otherwise, forbidding it, telling ourselves “Not my kid”…none of that will help our kids process this narrative or navigate their own challenges. They already feel distanced from parents, teachers, and other adults because separation is part of growing to adulthood. Dismissing anything that matters to them, anything that interests them, broadens that distance and makes them less likely to trust us when they need us most.
2. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24.
In 2014, there were 1,668* suicides among teens aged 13-18. The annual toll has been steadily rising over the last few years, particularly among young women. “Thirteen Reasons Why” opens the door to the hard conversations we must have with our children, and each other, about the pressure-filled lives of American teenagers. (*figures and observations from the US)
3. Every day in America, over 5,000 middle and high school youth attempt suicide. Telling ourselves that this particular suicide narrative is somehow unworthy of our attention is a bit like insisting that Oskar Schindler looked nothing like Liam Neeson; it ignores the impact of the story. Storytelling is how we explore and understand our existence, our relationships with one another, our individual and collective legacy. If this is the story that makes us talk more openly about suicide, if this is the narrative that helps any teen reach out and find the loving support that keeps them alive, then it deserves requires demands our attention.
4. Four out of every five youth who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. Hannah, particularly in the Netflix series, is a drama girl. She creates drama, she seeks drama, she breathes drama. She is the girl who cried wolf; the kids who cared about her and would have done anything to stop her learn from her posthumous voice that her drama was most often a cry for help. No, her story is not entirely believable. Nor is the story of 2 teens who walked into a high school one day and killed 15 people including themselves. I wonder how many devastated parents look back and can’t believe their darling babies somehow felt abandoned and unlovable enough to end their own lives, or even the lives of their peers? The credibility of Hannah’s specific story is irrelevant to the conversation of what our teens navigate socially, academically, emotionally, sociologically every day and how all of this impacts their souls.
5. More than 1 out of 5 teenagers experience depression.
About the same percentage experience social or general anxiety. Both mental health issues are risk factors for suicide. Genetic depression and chemical imbalance can contribute to but are not necessary for situational depression to develop. Factors that cause situational depression are just as, if not more, likely to lead to suicidal feelings and actions. Social isolation or exclusion can lead to situational depression as teens find themselves without peer acceptance or support. Major loss or change such as that experienced through parents’ divorce, moving, loss of a friend or death of a close family member can all lead to depression. All teens experience doubt as to their own worthiness; bullying, neglect or abuse at home, learning disabilities, parental divorce, and many other factors can lead to low self esteem which can then develop into depression. Drug and alcohol use by teens, either socially or in an attempt to self-medicate, worsens depressive symptoms.
6. It is a myth that if a youth has decided to die by suicide then nothing we do will stop them.
In a mental health first aid training I attended, a young man who miraculously survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge spoke heartbreakingly of his conversation with his father that morning. He said, without doubt or hesitation, had his dad asked the simple question, “Are you all right?” he wouldn’t have gone to the bridge that day. He said he would have broken down, told his father all that he was feeling and battling; he would have asked his father for help. And he believed all along that his father loved and would help him. But he needed the question to be asked. He wasn’t blaming his dad. They both simply wanted to make it clear that asking the question would have mattered. The training made it clear that asking a person if they are thinking of suicide can save a life. Why else would suicide hotlines work? Of course it’s hard to definitively track the success of suicide hotlines, but there is evidence that as many of 80% of callers to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are alive due in part to the lifeline.
7. It is a myth that talking about suicide will give depressed or anxious people the idea to kill themselves. They already have the idea. Yes, watching and reading “Thirteen Reasons Why” may give them inspiration and the story may glorify Hannah’s method of leaving her peers behind to mourn her. To me that is all the more reason to talk about this narrative with our teens. How many kids signed up for martial arts because they watched “The Karate Kid?” Don’t the best books and movies inspire conversations about how our own experiences reflect those of the characters? The book is popular with preteens and teenagers. The series even more so. Why do we think that is? I say it’s because our young people see themselves and their own experiences in this story. Instead of judging this story to be dangerous and trying to shove it under the collective rug, let’s lean into it’s life-saving potential by talking about it with our kids!
8. Yes, revenge by suicide actually is a thing.
Are you kidding me? We all had those moments of thinking “They’d be sorry if I was gone,” as kids and teens. It even plays out in the movie “The Christmas Story,” when Ralphie fantasizes about coming home blind from soap poisoning. When children and teens feel wronged, they naturally dream of ways to make those who wronged them feel sorry. Would most suicidal teens take the time and effort to meticulously map a connected and collective narrative like Hannah’s and force her surviving peers to listen to it and then pass it to the next person? Probably not. But that’s exactly what makes this narrative so compelling to our kids. Look at all the social media quizzes we love (c’mon you know we do!). “Which 80’s movie character are you?” “Where would the Sorting Hat place you?” It’s all about connection and belonging, and I believe that our kids are reading and watching “Thirteen Reasons Why” and choosing – whether consciously or not – which characters they most relate to. Our call is not to tell them why they can’t do that because of our perceived flaw in the narrative. Our call is to talk to them about the characters, open ourselves to learning how they perceive themselves among their peers, to learning more about the path they walk every day in their complicated spheres. What if, simply by listening with consideration and attention, we can find the butterfly whose flapping wing will cause a hurricane in our beloved teens’ lives?
9. Peer relationships, identity formation, and self-esteem are a constant struggle in middle and high school and can impact teens’ mental health, putting them at further risk for suicide.
The often-toxic pressures and interactions our children experience are real. These pressures and interactions are represented in the stories told in “Thirteen Reasons Why.” We have a chance to find out how they’re affecting our kids. We have a window into the lives they lead when they’re away from us. We have a chance to delve into whether our youth are struggling in ways that remind them of the kids in this story and to reach out to help them. Enough said.
10. It doesn’t matter if you don’t find this narrative ‘believable’ because its purpose is to get us all talking about what our teens face in their daily lives and how we can best equip them to navigate adolescence in physical, mental, and emotional safety.
Most of us would likely find the day-to-day exchanges our youth are participating in pretty unbelievable, both in-person and on social media. They are not living the same teenage narrative we were. They are exposed to a 24-hour news cycle. They have videos of murder, rape, car crashes, extreme recklessness for adrenaline’s sake, and more at their fingertips. Their connection to other people depends on ‘likes’ and ‘followers.’ We can bemoan the age of technology, but that won’t help our children. Technological interconnectedness is their reality. It has positive aspects. It requires maturity and self-discipline that they have to grow into and learn. They need our help and guidance, not our dismissal that their world is somehow less valid than the one we remember.
11. Not all of our kids are like Hannah, of course. But what if they’re like the kids on Hannah’s tapes?
What if they’re in on excluding certain kids who aren’t popular enough? What if they’re in on making lists called “Who’s Hot/Who’s Not?” What if they’ve witnessed things at school or parties that upset them, and we’re not asking the right questions or listening enough to decode the answers? This story opens the world of teenagers to the adults who are willing to watch, read, and listen; let’s seize that opening and let our kids know we’re paying attention to them.
12. Dismissing the story in “Thirteen Reasons Why” for any reason is tantamount to dismissing the narratives of our young people’s daily lives.
When a teen reaches out for help, any adult who minimizes that child’s troubles only makes them worse and confirms the teen’s feeling that s/he is not important, not worth our valuable time and consideration. Our children perceive things differently than we do. Their life-shattering moments can feel trivial to those of us with mortgages and health care premiums and deadlines and unmanageable schedules…but these are still our teenagers’ life-shattering moments. Life shattering. Heart breaking. Soul crushing. These are phrases we glibly toss onto our tweets about bills and parenting, but these phrases are exactly how small traumas in their lives and relationships truly impact our youth. If their lives are shattered by wearing the wrong outfit to school, if their hearts are broken at a former best friend’s public rejection, if their souls are crushed by social media pressure and bullying…we cannot and must not dismiss the enormity of their feelings.
13. Our children face stress and pressure unlike anything we could have imagined at their age…and most of us would agree that we faced plenty.
It bears repeating: our youth live in a dramatically different world than we did. They are exposed to more violence, more disaster, more cruelty, and more relationship than most of us could have imagined at their age. “Thirteen Reasons Why” lives in a mostly white, suburban, privileged world. In that way it matches my experience and that of the youth with whom I work. But the impact of the lesson is not race or privilege dependent: the realities our children face every day matter. Their pain matters. Their fear matters. Their hopes and dreams matter. Their souls matter. And to me, “Thirteen Reasons Why” is an opportunity to explore the health and well being of those precious souls. You can bet I’m going to use it to do just that. I hope you will too.
There is much much more out there, keep checking back, keeping us up to date…