Growing up is difficult, especially for young people. Our previously-held assumptions are tested as our brains develop towards maturity. We begin experimenting with new social groups, world views, and self-expression. The space between adulthood and childhood is a ‘passing of the torch’ as the child’s personality changes and behavioural patterns become set. 

Just as a physical wound heals slower with age, so too do psychological trauma or mental health issues. That’s because the mental ‘elasticity’ of youth loses its resistance as we age. By the end of adolescence, we’ve learned most of the emotional skill sets, for good or bad, that we’ll use throughout our lives. This isn’t to say we can no longer change our behavioural patterns — it’s just much harder to do so after a certain stage of development. 

 

What is adolescence? 

Adolescence is the period of time normally assigned to puberty — typically beginning at 9-12 through to 18. These changes are only partially physical. Although the brain continues to develop up to twenty-five, much of our mental processing ‘switches’ in this period as we develop from children to adults. This includes the development of the logical centres of the brain, which control abstract thinking and problem-solving. Whilst the prefrontal cortex is forming the amygdala, the emotional centre, takes over this function, which can make for a confusing, emotionally charged development.

 

Why focus on mental health for young people?

Many problems in later lives develop during this transition, as we come to be influenced more by our peers and relationships with others. Our relationships with our family or friends may also change at this stage as adolescents begin to question authority figures or previously assumed relationships. At this stage, young people in abusive households begin to understand their circumstances more critically, making for a difficult transition and often a separation period as they distance themselves from negative relationships. 

Helping adolescents understand and come to terms with this development calls for a particular understanding of the young, developing mind. Young people are just as complex but may not be as well informed or able to recognise the thoughts and feelings they’re having. Many of these are new and will take time to learn how to learn how to deal with emotionally.

Train

It’s critical, at this stage, that they learn how to do this correctly. Think of it like laying down tracks for a train, with the train being emotional reasoning. Once the tracks have been laid, it’s very difficult to change the direction of the train, especially when it’s moving at speed. With time and practice, change is possible, although it’s much easier to shape the final destination early on when the track is being built. 

Like this metaphorical track, the brain’s neural pathway is being ‘laid out’ at this critical juncture, learning how to respond emotionally to the surrounding world. Our thoughts about what we eat and how we look, for example, may be set at this time based on the stimulus and support (or lack of support) we receive. 

 

Creating a Mental Health First Aid action plan.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is about learning how to communicate and help young people. You can find out more by reading our other blog here, although some of it will be the same. 

Within Youth Mental Health First Aid, participants learn how to recognise and approach those experiencing a mental illness. The most common support system used is ALGEE;

 

Other things to know.

Understanding your role as a Mental Health First Aider can be difficult. However, your role does not take place over your previous one. If you’re a parent helping your own child, your parental role is still your main one. If you have professional responsibilities, they still take place. 

You may also wonder, especially if you’re not the parent, what your responsibility is in terms of what to do next. Should you contact the parents or health care authorities? Your answer will depend on the nature of the child’s problem and if supportive parental figures are present in their lives. If possible, parents should be involved, and in most cases, there will be at least one parental figure who is responsible and caring. Encouraging the adolescent to break through objections (‘they’ll be angry’ or ‘they won’t understand’) is important. If the issue is directly involved with the parents, other authorities may need to be involved.

Additional professional support should be sought as well. Encourage the adolescent to talk to seek professional help. If the emergency is of a medical nature or involves suicide or self-harm, contact support immediately. 

 

Confidentiality. 

The decision to reach out for help should come from the child themselves, to respect their confidentiality and rights as an individual. It’s your job, as a Mental Health First Aider, to get them to approach others. Exceptions may be made if the person in question is at risk of harm or if they don’t have the capacity or maturity to make the decision themselves.

 

Talking to young people.

Here are some further tips for relating to adolescents:

 

Becoming a Mental Health First Aider.

Currently, we have a course being offered on the 1st of March at the PCYC building in Emerald, Australia. This is a two-day course, with part of the course offered online. Registration is still open, although if you’re interested, we suggest signing up now to complete the online component before the 1st of March and receive your full certification. 

For more details or to book your Youth Mental First Aid course, you can register here. Search for bookings on the 1st March in Emerald to enroll, or to find other courses near you.

 

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