Mental health is something we are becoming more aware of and talking about more often. But what exactly is mental health? And what role does resilience have in good emotional and mental wellbeing?
What is mental health?
According to the WHO “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.“ We are living in a time where there are huge pressures on young people from exam stress, tests at school, competition for university places and jobs when we leave school, economic pressures, social media, the need to conform and fit in, unstable families, cyberbullying to name just a few. Normalising talking about our feelings and that its ok not to be ok is just the first step. I believe that building up resilience and protective factors to cope with life’s inevitable stressors is key. This is where I think schools come in.
As a teenager, school is where we spend most of our waking hours, whether we like it or not. I didn’t enjoy my early secondary school years. I didn’t have a fixed friend group, I didn’t have someone to sit beside in classes, I had nobody to hang out with at lunch and I worried too much about what other people thought of me and how to fit in. Now I’m in college, I can look back on this time and think about what could have made it easier for me and what could make it easier for all the other young people who are in secondary school now.
There is lots of discussion about adolescent mental health in the news and in academic journals. What it often boils down to is enhancing protective factors, reducing risk factors and building resilience. What exactly does that mean?
Protective factors are things that make it easier to deal with life events like having friends, a supportive family, having control over your life, problem-solving skills, and good communication skills.
On the other hand, risk factors include family breakdown, low self-esteem, lack of education and experiencing loss.
Resilience is essentially when something bad happens to us, are we able to bounce back and continue on our life journey or will it keep us down for a long period of time. There are lots of ways to build resilience. Resilience is about our ability to cope when things don’t go the way we expect them to. In life disappointment, unfairness, boredom, difference of opinion and rejection happens often. And we need to be able to cope with this. By acknowledging these important human experiences we develop resilience.
Putting things in perspective and being able to reframe what happened is a great way to become more resilient. Will you remember this in five years? In three years? In three months? Chances are, the thing isn’t as big as it seems, and you can move past it fairly quickly.
Recognising and naming emotions
Naming emotions, accepting them for what they are and knowing they are neither good nor bad but simply are is another step. Like the lights on a car dashboard, emotions can tell you if something is wrong, or doesn’t sit with your values. It’s good to listen to and be in tune with your emotions but try not to let them rule you. Being able to find practical explanations rather than personal ones is something else I wish I had been able to do. If that person ignores you, it’s not necessarily because they don’t like you. They might be in a hurry somewhere or distracted or not focused on their surroundings, so they didn’t see you. Not everything is always about you, usually there is an alternative and practical explanation to examples like this.
School is a busy time so time management is essential. Making time to do things you enjoy is so important. We often forget to do things and take time for ourselves. Exercise can be part of that. Going and hitting a sliotar off a wall as hard as you can does wonders for letting out anger! In general, any exercise be it dancing around your room or bringing the dog for a walk can help clear your head and distance yourself from whatever might be going on.
Know your coping strategies. What works for someone else might not work for you. Figure out what has helped before and what might help in the future so if you do need it you have a toolbox of coping skills available to you. Building up skills in a hobby can boost your sense of mastery. Remind yourself of the things you are good at and find things you can learn like playing a musical instrument, knitting or sports. Self-efficacy is believing in your ability to solve a problem, reach a goal, complete a task, and achieve what you set out to do, makes it easier to overcome challenges.
Spend time with your friends and do things you enjoy. Building up social support means there are people there for you in the good times and the bad times. If you don’t get on with people in your school, try going to a youth club or joining an activity or club outside of school, or start volunteering. If you want to try something different, you could try to find a penpal to make friends with people outside of your local area.
Resilience is something that can be learned and although it takes time, it can make your life a lot easier in the future. It won’t stop the difficult things from happening but how you deal with them is what will make the difference. You can see things as a lesson and come out stronger and better prepared for the next curveball life throws at you.
Lastly, please try not to be afraid to talk. Help-seeking is a sign of strength and there is always someone to listen. If you don’t want to talk to friends or family there are helplines like Childline, Samaritans and Pieta House that are always there for you and if talking is too hard then there are text support services such as Samaritans or Childline. I know it seems scary but reaching out is worth it and your future self will most likely thank you.