Girls and young women are experiencing a “gathering crisis” in their mental health linked to conflict with friends, fears about their body image and pressures created by social media, experts have warned.*

I just became a youth mental health first aider (MHFA).

For two days I sat in a stately home near Bristol with a group of educators and other professionals who work with young people. We went through a comprehensive training manual, developed by the Centre for Mental Health Research from Australia and now adapted for UK, as part of a national approach to improving awareness of emotional and mental health problems experienced by young people in England.  It is based on 5 step process which starts with; Ask, Assess & Act, then to listen non-judgementally and give reassurance, while enabling the young person to get professional help, whilst also encouraging self-help strategies.



Putting Theory into Practice

Fast forward a week later and I’m in the middle of a very real situation with a young woman close to me whose best friend has confided in her about her depression but sworn her to secrecy, which is exaceberating my friends own anxiety too. As I’d just done the course one of the first questions I asked was if her friend was having suicidal thoughts, to which the answer was yes. This is a red flag which means both her parents and health professionals need to get involved, and overrides any other concerns about confidentiality. It is easy to skirt around this issue and feel you shouldn’t get too involved as your ‘not equipped to deal with mental health problems’.

Yet if someone was sick or bleeding you’d act instantly to help them right?

So it should be with mental health issues. Just taking the time to listen and ask the right questions can make all the difference, as most young people will try to hide the true extent of their issues. However for those aged 15 to 24 years, suicide is the 2nd most common cause of death, accounting for 19% of all deaths in the age group.

For young women the current mental health trends are very concerning indeed:
– Rates of stress, anxiety and depression are rising sharply among teenage girls in what mental health specialists say is a “deeply worrying” trend that is far less pronounced among boys of the same age.
– They warn that the NHS lacks the resources to adequately tackle the problem. Stress and social media fuel mental health crisis among girls.
– NHS data shows 68% rise in hospital admissions because of self-harm among girls under 17 in past decade.


Why Youth Mental Health First Aid?

There are many reasons why people need training in Youth MHFA.
– Mental health and emotional problems often develop during adolescence or early adulthood. Half of young adults with mental health disorders have a psychiatric disorder by 15, and nearly 75% had done so by their late teens.
– Mental health problems are common, especially depression, anxiety and misuse of alcohol and drugs with one young person in ten experiencing some form of problems with their emotional health in the course of a year.
– However many young people don’t get the support and care they need. As although it is getting better there is still a stigma associated with mental health problems. This may hinder young people from seeking help. They are often ashamed to discuss mental health problems with family and friends. They may also be reluctant to seek professional help for such problems because of their concerns about what others will think of them.

In Bristol and South Gloucestershire where I live there is a really good free and confidential youth mental health counselling service OTR (off the record) for young people 11-24 years. They provide individual counselling sessions and other drop-in services which support resilience. The best way to find out about those in your area is to speak to your local GP and/or school pastoral care services or just through a simple online search.



Self-Help Strategies for Coping with Christmas

Christmas can of course be a really stressful time, from a combination of;
– The sheer number of social situations, especially those including family members and excessive alcohol intake, can trigger stress and arguments.
– The constant barrage of advertising showing the perfect happy families and couples can make us feel that our life is somewhat lacking.
– The pressure to spend lots of money on presents and socialising that we often don’t have.
It all adds up to a potentially very stressful environment, which is a shame because it should really be an opportunity to relax and have a lot of fun with those we love most.

There is a useful blog on the OTR website ‘Surviving Christmas’ which has some great tips and links to other resources. Wellbeing coach Gemma David of the Quiet Heart recommends identifying your top personal pleasures – or Vitamin P’s – which you should ensure you do at least one or two of each day.  Also do try Happy City’s Happiness Pulse – which is also a great way to monitor and boost your wellbeing.
Here are a few other simple ideas:

7 Festive Wellbeing Tips

1. Practice some Mindfulness – focus on your breathing, eating, walking etc.
2. Reduce caffeine and alcohol – drink lots of water, herbal teas and juices instead, also ensure you still get your 5 a day fruit and veg too!
3. Get adequate sleep – 9-10 hours each night for young people and around 8 hours each night for adults.
4. Practice controlled breathing methods – slow relaxed breathing, to reduce feelings of panic or anxiety.
5. Engage in regular physical activity – just 20 mins a day walking, swimming, cycling or whatever you enjoy most, really helps to keep your physical & mental well being on track.
6. Use evidence based anxiety web sites or self-help books – the MIND website has some great resources.
7. Talk to family and friends who you are most comfortable with about your thoughts and feelings – it really helps to get them out in the open, making them way less scary and much more manageable.


It’s easy to end up running around looking after everyone else’s needs at Christmas, however remember to check-in with your own wellbeing and take some time for yourself. If you don’t think another night out or another sweet snack is going to make you feel good, then it’s ok to take some time out, just have a bath, go for a walk, read a book or treat yourself to an early night. As if you aren’t well then the rest of your life isn’t going to work properly either.

Hopefully now the two young women I know are getting proper support from their school and parents they will get through this period ok and come out of it stronger.
And really that’s all you can do.
Look at out for any warning signs, both with yourself and those around you.
Check-in, listen, talk &
Encourage them to get the appropriate help and support.

Let’s all be mental health first aiders this Christmas.

Traci Lewis, director, Catalyse Change CIC @TraciLewis79     Catalyse Change empower young women as confident resilient changemakers –  for events & outreach programme info visit

If you are worried about your mental health and need someone to speak to:
Childline T: 0800 1111
Samaritans T: 116 123

Register for Off the Record services on their website

To find out more about Mental Health First

Also to help boost your happiness now & for the long-term try Happy City’s  Happiness Pulse