It's the most wonderful time of the year ... but not for everyone

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…. but not for everyone

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Most people think of Christmas as a time of happiness, celebration and spending time with family and friends. I certainly look forward to Christmas every year for some much-needed rest, fun, and festivities with my family. However, I am also acutely aware that for many young people, especially those who are finding life tough-going, the Christmas period can add significantly to their challenges. For them, it can be anything but wonderful. Studies show that depression rates increase for many at Christmas, and suicide rates often show an increase at Christmas. One recent American survey of young people showed that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.

Most would agree that Christmas can be a challenging time for everyone’s stress levels, with all the planning, organising and shopping to do. It can be even harder for those with low levels of resilience and poor mental health and wellbeing. Most people will have emotional and mental health challenges at some time in their lives, and for at least a quarter of the population, this will develop into a diagnosable mental illness such as stress, anxiety, depression or psychosis. At a time when most people are busy celebrating, some young people will simply be unable to do so because of their emotional and mental state. Christmas can increase their sense of isolation, or for those with a past bereavement, their sense of loss.

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Unfortunately, some young people will turn to alcohol and substance abuse, self-harm or other risky behaviour as a way of coping during the festive break, and unchecked, these can become dangerous habits with ongoing negative impacts for their physical health and life chances. Those living in families who have been hardest hit by the reduction in support services in the recent period of austerity will be under added pressures at this time of year; young people can find it very difficult to cope.So, if you are the parent, carer or friend of a young person who is struggling and who might find Christmas an extra challenge this year, the following might help you to help them:

1. Try to set a realistic expectation for Christmas and family gatherings and avoid the ‘perfect’ representation of Christmas pushed by the media and advertisements. Encourage the family, friends and young person to be in the present and enjoy each moment as best as they can. This should help avoid disappointment, frustration and arguments, and to keep the tension low.

2. Watch out for unusual or abnormal behaviour in a young person, such as withdrawal, being down for long periods, increased anxiety, or panic attacks. Try to help them restore calm by giving them time away from noisy, busy places and concentrating on quiet and being in the moment. The following website has some fun mindfulness activities for young people: positivepsychologyprogram.com.

3. Encourage the young person to talk about their feelings and to seek help from the statutory and voluntary organisations out there to support them, especially if you are really worried about them:

4. Discourage the young person from making unhelpful and inaccurate social comparisons with others. This will avoid a negative impact on self-esteem through a likely mistaken belief that everyone else is having a better time, better gifts, more fun and a better life. Social media can often encourage this distorted view of others’ lives and can lead to self-image issues or feeling inadequate.

5. Encourage the young person to get involved with helping others through local charities and worthwhile causes, or to attend organised community activities. Encourage them to do some physical activity as the connection between physical health and wellbeing is very strong.

6. Remember that some young people might find the most challenging time to be after Christmas, in the period known as the post-Christmas blues. Seasonal Affected Disorder might also come into play so it is worth bearing this in mind once the festivities are over.

Listen to the young people in your life and try to support them in making the right decisions for their own well-being …. and if you’re a parent or carer, don’t forget to take care of yourself too.

Everyone at HeadStart Wolverhampton wishes you a wonderful Christmas holidays.

Share your feedback! An introduction to the new HeadStart Support and Guidance platform.

How do you find the best resources to support the emotional well-being of young people, whether you’re a young person yourself, a professional who works with young people, or a family member?

In the last week, we’ve launched the HeadStart Support and Guidance Directory at support.headstartonline.co.uk, our new platform to share well-being and mental health resources from around the web. In this post, I want to provide a quick overview of the new site, including the thinking behind its structure and design.

The concept of a citywide digital platform to provide support and guidance was always part of the HeadStart Wolverhampton vision, and was a key part of the citywide proposals in the successful bid we submitted to Big Lottery last year. We wanted to provide a place online where young people, professionals and parents could find information they could trust.

The question for us, of course, was how should the site look and work?

One idea was to create theme-based pages based around common emotional or mental health challenges: ’depression’, ‘bullying’, ‘self harm’ and so on. We could have brought together onto the pages information and media created by HeadStart Wolverhampton with links to other fantastic content on the web created by the likes of Young Minds, Time To Change, The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, and many others. This approach has been adopted successfully by other organisations, including the Black Country CAMHS site at BlackCountryMinds.com, and the HeadStart Kent site at headstartkent.org.uk.

We decided to take a different route. Our key design goals were to:

  • provide a curated directory of resources that encouraged sharing, user feedback and user submission of resources
  • create a platform that would be easy to update with new resources
  • allow users to search for resources using natural language based on their needs and interests
  • allow users to specify who they are, whether a young person, professional, or parent, and to deliver appropriate resources based on this without users having to establish usernames or passwords.
  • find a way to present a range of content ‘types’ - including video, organisations, webpages and more - in a way that allowed visitors to explore these separately. (We imagined a teacher looking for video content to use in class to explore a challenging topic, or a young person looking for an organisation to support them with a mental health challenge. How would they find these easily?)
  • make sure that the site worked well on a wide range of devices, including, critically, on iOS and Android smartphones.

From the earliest development of the site, we envisaged a search results page with a ‘magazine’ style, organised according to resource type. Instead of Google-style search listings, we wanted something more visual. We imagined that the search results page could become a destination in its own right, a page that visitors could store, share, and return to repeatedly as new resources were added. This idea ultimately lead to search result pages that look like this:

A search results page for 'bullying'

A search results page for 'bullying'

Through an open procurement process, we commissioned the Oxygen Agency to partner with us to make these ideas a reality, working alongside their project management and development teams to storyboard ideas, and refine the user interface. With our design ideas in place, and with web development ongoing, the challenge now was to populate the site with links to carefully selected content.

Through the summer and early autumn, we worked with a group of undergraduates and recent graduates from the University of Wolverhampton as part of the university’s WXP programme. Their task was to find, review, and moderate resources on a range of selected themes. Every resource was reviewed by at least two students before being added to the platform.

And now we’re in a position where we’re happy for everyone to explore the site, to ’kick the tyres’ and, critically, to share feedback with us about what’s working well and what’s not. The HeadStart team, with continuing support from university graduates, is still hard at work adding new content to the platform, and tweaking the organisation and descriptions of existing resources. Please help us by submitting the resources that you find most helpful.

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We’re already making use of the features of the site to curate selected resources for a specific purpose: the ‘Orange Wolverhampton’ campaign to raise awareness of violence against women and girls that is organised by Wolverhampton Safeguarding Board. Doing this was as easy as keywording a range of resources, and sharing a link to the search results page like this:

See below for a video overview of the basic features of the new platform, and let us know what you think by commenting below on this blog post, emailing us, or messaging us on Twitter or FaceBook. Many thanks for your support - we hope that you find the platform to be a useful addition to your list of ‘go to’ places for advice and guidance.

Resilience and why it’s okay not to be okay

You need to get thicker skin” That one little phrase can really mess your day up. If someone is upset that is okay, no-one has the right to make you feel bad for feeling upset. I’ve always been someone who is sensitive and well ever since my depression and anxiety kicked in it has been considerably worse. I get that the world isn’t sugarcoated and full of rainbows and that is perfectly fine but what is not fine is having a go at someone when they have the right to be upset. You have the right not to be okay when you need that time. 

We’re currently in a society which loves to use phrases such as ‘perk up’ ‘You just have to deal with it’ ‘what do you even have to be depressed about?’ and my personal favourite ‘you’re strong, you’ll be fine’. Okay so first off let’s start with the fact that mental illness is NOT a choice. Trust me if I was able to choose anything I’d quite like longer hair and the ability to contour properly but hey sometimes we don’t get a choice. 

‘You’re strong you’ll be fine’ so this phrase literally makes me want to cover my face and scream. I consider myself strong physically sometimes especially when I’m at the gym with my hair in a bun ready to squat. However I also consider myself equally not strong physically or mentally at times. There are times where I have to stick on a brave face, pretend I’m coping and just get on with life until I get back to my room. I can feel weak and helpless at times even when I don’t have the time to be feeling like this, again another lovely effect of mental illness you don’t get to choose when or where it happens. 

It’s only recently I’ve learnt that it is okay not to be okay. I’m allowed to have days where maybe the only thing I do is get up, washed and put on a fresh pair of PJs because that’s all I can face doing. Some days can be great and I live for those days and then you have those other days which I used too call fog days when I was little. These are the days where everything can hit either all at once, or during the middle of the day or even when you are having a laugh and a joke with your family/friends. 

The one thing I have learnt to help me at these times is to be resilient and it is harder than it sounds. Some days I can be quite good at it, other days it goes out the window completely but I gave it a shot so it counts. For me going to the gym helps a lot, exercise = endorphins. I love being able to stick my headphones in and zone out of the world for an hour. I feel relaxed when I leave and can face the day again. Sometimes I just take a step back from everything and try to focus on having me time, this can be reading a book or taking my dog for a walk or even just having a chat about anything with my bestie. I’m not completely there yet and I don’t think at the moment or anytime soon I will be but as long as I keep trying and becoming stronger with it that’s all that matters. 

“Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt, you fall. But you keep going” 

I love this quote and well it explains the steps I’m currently on loop with and that many other people are too. Remember be kind to yourself, it’s okay not to be okay and just take it one step at a time.