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/ 9 December 2019

Starting out: mental health, children and young people

Katie O’Conor reflects on our recent mental health training day with ThinkTwice and shares a couple of starting points everyone can think about when it comes to children and young people.

Awareness of mental health and mental illness has been on the rise for the past few years, especially among under 18’s. Now, more than ever, we need to be creating spaces where the children and young people we work with can feel safe to express themselves as well as feeling supported and loved through anything they are facing.

Recently Rachel Newman, the founder of ThinkTwice, a Christian mental health charity, provided some training for the Diocese. She led a training day about mental health and how we, as Christians, can stand alongside the people in our communities who are struggling with mental illness.

The day was spent focusing on the main mental illnesses people face, such as depression, anxiety and panic disorders, self-harm and eating disorders. For each one, Rachel answered these questions:

  • What is it?
  • Why do people get it?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What does it look like?
  • What can help?
  • How can we help?

Rachel shared some statistics about each issue, such as 1-in-6 people aged 16-24 having symptoms of a common mental health issue like depression or anxiety. Additionally, 1-in-12 young people have experienced an eating disorder.

She also unpacked where we can find insight and guidance in the Bible. Looking at the Bible through the lens of mental health brought us some powerful insight into God’s perspective on the topic. Leading us through the Bible, Rachel highlighted what it has to say about mental health and illnesses. She set a context by taking us through a study of Genesis 2, which paints a picture of what we need as humans to thrive (i.e. what good mental health entails): such as good physical health, boundaries (v8, 15), creative occupation (v15, 19), companionship (v18, 22), security, food & drink (v9) and natural beauty (v8).

Later we reflected on the concept of shalom (peace in the form of wholeness, completeness and wellbeing) as something to nurture in children and young people. Rachel made a challenging point reflecting on Mark 10:46-52; the story of Bartimaeus. In healing Bartimaeus’ blindness, Jesus didn’t just bring back his sight, but re-shaped his identity. Where he would have been known as “Blind Bartimaeus” in that community, Jesus calls him Bartimaeus and restores his sight, dealing with the stigma of his disability in that context. Some young people today connect their mental illness with their identity so much that to remove it is a huge ordeal. Even though it is negative, mental illness can become so entwined in a young persons identity that to remove it could be incredibly painful in its own right.

The day was an incredibly thorough and helpful overview of what mental health is and how we can better support children and young people who are struggling with mental illness. One of my take homes was that we need to talk about this stuff more. Mental health has lost a lot of the sigma that it once had, but some still feel they can’t talk about it freely. ThinkTwice has an aim to “decrease [the] stigma [of mental health] so that people are as able to be open about their mental health condition as they are about having the flu.”

So what can we do?

Think about mental health accessibility

Small tweaks to increase accessibility for those with mental health issues can make a big difference. For example, if you’ve noticed someone having an issue with eating food at a gathering, try extending the menu with something a little healthier like soup or falafel – which can be just as easy to prep as pizza or paninis. Thinking through the lens of someone with a mental health concern can help you see where to make these small changes.

Create space for children and young people to share

Think about how you can make talking about mental health as normal as talking about a cold. A great starting point can be talking with your group about how they process difficult emotions. Creating space for children and young person to share and learn in a bigger context without it being all about them could make a huge difference in their life.

I’d encourage you to start talking about this more and break stigmas in your community. If you need any support doing this, feel free get in touch with our team at youth@nulllondon.anglican.org.

ThinkTwice has some helpful content on their blog. Other great resources and places to direct young people to can be found through CALM, SelfharmUK and Self Injury Support.

Looking for a resource to help you open up new conversations with young people? Check out Vocalise – a resource produced by young people and Capital Youth!

About Katie O'Conor

Katie is the Children’s Ministry Support worker and Apprenticeship Scheme Coordinator for the Diocese of London. She loves connecting with people across London and helping the diocese think more about how we can best support children and families ministry across the diocese, working with the children and youth team to support churches.

Read more from Katie O'Conor

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