Young people and mental health - why seeking help shows strength
I consider myself lucky to be learning from the best. After a good few years of the required training to become a counsellor, my real education has now begun. My teachers no longer take the shape you may expect, but are instead the interesting, brave, and varied young people I work with. I think it takes a fair amount of courage to firstly admit you might need a little help, and, secondly, to actually go out and get it. Yes, parents definitely play their part, perhaps encouraging their child to take the first step towards getting support, but it is the young person who has to walk into a small room and go about the daunting task of talking about how they feel to a total stranger.
So, here is a little of what I have learnt so far…
There seems to be a misconception about mental health problems and seeking counselling that looks something like this: "If I need support, I am not strong". This stance is unhelpful, and who decided that hiding vulnerabilities is a strength, anyway? I think you have to be pretty tough to acknowledge, face, and share what you are struggling with. It takes patience and hard work to sit across from a counsellor and look more closely at yourself. Changes don’t come easily, and require an impressive effort that deserves credit.
When experiencing a mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, seemingly straight forward, everyday tasks and activities can become really challenging. The young people I counsel are often hard on themselves about the fact that they are finding life unusually difficult. This can overshadow what I term as the 'small victories', such as getting out of bed, managing a little breakfast, having a shower, and making it out into the world that day. Recognising that, for now, these routines are harder than they used to be, allows you to acknowledge that you are actually still coping, managing life... surviving. I have learnt from the young people I work with that this can be a very good place to start.
Having the opportunity to tell someone what it feels like to be you, without the need to airbrush, edit, or disguise, can provide immense relief. Through sitting and listening to young people describe their inner and outer lives, I have witnessed first-hand the positive impact of feeling heard. Mental health problems can lead to feelings of loneliness. In your efforts to hide your pain, you can become isolated at the very time that the support, company, and acceptance of others can be hugely reassuring.
Putting your more difficult, even scary experiences into words with someone who is calm and steady can be comforting. I think we all need comfort sometimes, regardless of age. There is something about talking to someone who is able to hear your fears without becoming fearful themselves, that can help you to feel safe in your own skin again. Talking really can help - keeping things bottled up really doesn’t.
Counselling is just one type of support, but there is a whole range of help out there, and finding the best fit for you is a choice only you can make. I suppose what matters most is not going it alone. The young people counsellors often work with want to talk, and if given the opportunity, are able to articulate their difficulties in their own unique way. We see them begin to understand themselves better and find their own way forward.
An important part of a counsellor's job is to keep learning about what it is like to be a young person in today's world. This allows us, as counsellors, to get better at offering the support that is actually needed. I am hopeful that this is how it is for the majority of counsellors out there. In a way, when you do reach out for support, you may also be playing a part in helping another young person get the quality of counselling they need.