Reports out this week claim as many as three out of four parents consider the mental health of their children deteriorated, whilst waiting for NHS support.
This startling statistic points to what we know to be an increasing problem around young people and their need for help.
Here, we chat to a woman who is wading into the space.
If only we could all learn to be a little more authentic about our mental health, our state of mind, our past anxieties and insecurities.
When it comes to the business world, often it seems proud entrepreneurial founders wouldn’t want to be sharing the gremlins of their past – perhaps for fear of stigma, judgment or out and out ignorance.
How refreshing then, to chat to female founder, Shirley Billson.
So honest is she about her own past, that she kicks off her Eloquently Her interview with a contented admission that she attempted to take her own life at the age of 17.
“I have no problem with admitting that whatsoever,” she says candidly. “I’m more than happy with you writing that up. It’s exactly what my point is about mental health – we all do need to be able to share what’s real for us.”
There’s perhaps even more of a reason that Shirley feels this way, when you understand what it is that her new business is focusing on. In the last year, she’s launched her Mental Wealth Factory. It’s a social enterprise which is stamping a determined foot in the world of young people, seeking to change the way they think and feel about themselves, and the wider world.
Calling on Shirley’s background in solution focused hypnotherapy, the ‘factory’ service is delivered primarily with secondary schools, governors and universities in mind. It’s carried out via one-to-ones or workshops or other engagement exercises, to explore vulnerabilities around mental health, and tackle evident issues.
“I’ve always been interested in the way people think, and in part, that’s because of my own experience of mental health issues,” Shirley picks up. “Back in my teenage years, I struggled a lot and found myself taking an overdose at the age of 17. I suppose for the most part it was because I felt overwhelmed by relationship issues and teenage angst.
“Was I truly ‘depressed’? I’m not sure about that, but I know that I found things hard to cope with, and it’s the memories of that time which make me often question how on earth children of today are managing to cope, given how they face far more challenges than I think we did some decades ago.”
Shirley’s belief is that today’s young people are confronted by a landscape that’s so much more likely to trigger mental health difficulties and set about creating negative thoughts. In amongst the usual hormonal changes which have been happening to teens since the dawn of time, she feels that alterations in technology, communication, family dynamics, and even the education and examination system, can all impact hard on this age group.
“I don’t think we should tell young people to ‘buck up’,” she insists, strongly. “There are some really big issues which children are facing right now, and for many of them, they’re really suffering. It’s not about how we as the outsider to their thoughts feel they should be capable of dealing with those factors – it’s real for them and they need help navigating it.”
She continues: “There’s a whole mix of things happening which contribute to stress in young people. We see more disjointed families, there’s less ‘escape’ from any kind of negative friendship issue because of social media and mobile phones; and then there’s the school environment. I used to tell my son that he shouldn’t feel so pressured at school and take it all on his shoulders, because a lot of these rigorous exams and assessments are designed more to explore the teachers and their ability, than the children.
“But that’s not how they see it. There’s infinitely more pressure on schools to perform, and therefore, it’s the pupils – our sons and daughters – who feel the brunt. They’re taking on the stressed emotions of the adults they’re around day after day.”
Shirley says it’s this catalogue of issues in a young person’s life which lead to something of a ‘pressure cooker’ in time, and it’s because of this that she increasingly felt drawn to wanting to make a difference in this arena. She is adamant that it should not be left until a family feels that they have to reach out for help in desperation. Instead, it should be more about prevention, and swift and effective prevention at that.
“We know we can demand help when our kids are falling apart and self harming or showing other signs that they’re really not coping, but my point with the Mental Wealth Factory, is that there is so much we can do if we get into schools and work with the young people before things mount too far,” Shirley explains. “My work is around solution focused hypnotherapy, combined with an academic understanding of neuroscience and what shapes youngsters to feel the way they do.
“I’ve now used those approaches to create a package of workshops and one-to-one scenarios which can be deployed in schools and universities, and which look at our emotional navigation system to find ways to build resilience and wellbeing.”
Among the solutions which Shirley and her team deliver, are high-school-focused workshops which look at such topics as ‘How your brain works’, ‘Coping with Overwhelm’, ‘Developing Confident Thinking’ and ‘Managing Expectations’. In addition, she also provides similarly specific workshops for universities (for example, helping freshers deal with finding freedom and discovering their identity away from home), and also conducts modules entirely designed to help teaching staff discover their ‘mental wealth’.
“We have to look at this from all sides, and therefore deal with all people in the picture,” Shirley adds. “The pandemic of mental health issues in young people which we’re seeing, cannot only be tackled by looking to the youngsters themselves. Ultimately, we need adults to be taught these processes too, and beyond that, we all need to feel more comfortable about engaging in the right conversations and speaking up when our mental health feels out of equilibrium. “Only with such a holistic approach will we really make a difference.”
If you’re a parent packing your child off back to university in the coming weeks, or have recently engaged them in school for another academic year, perhaps it’s worth remembering that what they learn in these coming years, must be about so much more than just Shakespeare’s musings and mathematical calculations. If we can all ‘educate’ more about our brains and their intricacies, perhaps society’s problems with mental health will slowly, and surely be understood better – even if it can’t be completely eradicated.