Young Minds in Crisis and A Surprisingly Simple Solution!

Jill Harrison, NLP Master Practitioner, Manager of Next Generation Health and a Healthy Lifestyle Coach within the NHS. She is also a mum and delivers her own fitness classes.

‘…surveys suggest that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago. That’s probably because of changes in the way we live now and how that affects the experience of growing up.’
– Mental Health Foundation

The Context

Gone are the days when your back street, the local park, and a handful of real-life friends, made up your experience of the world. The younger generation of today is struggling to cope in this age of social media, academic pressure and the relentless bombardment of global information to which they are subjected.

If anything is to change, we must acknowledge that young people are not responsible for the environments in which they live and learn. Just because they can master the latest technology in the blink of an eye does not mean that they are mature or ready for what it reveals. Their vulnerable, developing brains are exposed to information and stressors that OUR generation has created, and they are crumbling under the pressure…

Here are the facts:

75% of all mental health problems are established by the age of 18.
75% of those young people do not receive treatment, largely due to the lack of available services.

No child should have to reach crisis point to get help with their mental health. And yet many of our CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) are not able to offer treatment to a young person unless they have actually made an attempt to end their young life. This is NOT acceptable, but neither is placing the sole responsibility at the door of these services.

Once we acknowledge that Pandora’s Box is now well and truly open, and that the social media monster is not going away anytime soon, we must look to other means of addressing the ills causing such issues in our young people.

Being at Cause – a cause for real change!

Is it not ironic,
That in this brand-new age of technology,
Which fosters addiction, emptiness and lack,
We turn to the ancient wisdoms and practices
To bring fulfilment, balance and bliss?

Our young people live at effect of their environments, on social media, at school and amongst their peer groups. In order for change to happen, and for them to have any sense of self-mastery, we must take a generative approach, so that new skills can be developed and practiced. And those skills are neither complex nor new. Rather, they are simple and ancient. The brains of our young people are primed for change and we already have the tools to help them to thrive. What we might perceive as inherent, and therefore fixed traits, that lead to anxiety or depression, are, in reality, natural internal reactions to their external world. Under the right kind of guidance, the skills to thrive can easily be developed.

Happiness is a skill
Emotional Balance is a skill
Compassion & Altruism are skills
Like all skills they have to be developed
That’s what education is about
– Matthieu Ricard

Curiosity and Flexibility – Tools to Foster Resilience

The age-old practice of mindfulness is gaining momentum in the modern world and has a plethora of evidence science to support its application, from improving mental health to enhancing wellbeing for us all. Mindfulness has the real potential to help us to feel alive, and to fully live in the moment, which is, in reality, all that we have.

Increasingly, young people and adults are learning how to practice mindfulness in order to develop the skills to live well alongside life’s ups and downs. Mindfulness can help us to regulate emotions, to manage anxiety and depression, and it can help us to focus better, to prevent our feelings from running away with us. It offers a pause between our emotions and our behaviours, enabling us to respond, rather than react, to situations.

If you change the way you look at things,
The things you look at change
Wayne Dyer

For those young people who turn to substances or to self-harm to avoid difficult feelings, or for those experiencing chronic anxiety, practicing mindfulness has the potential to allow them to tune into and allow those unwanted feelings to just-be, in the present, without allowing them the power to overwhelm. With consistent practice, they can learn to go beyond ‘sitting with the feelings’ and approach their emotions and thoughts with curiosity and affection, and ultimately develop self-mastery.

If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence
from the world within one generation
– Dalai Lama

How Does it Work?

Mindfulness means: Deliberately paying attention to present moment, without judgement

It’s free, it’s flexible and it’s easy to do.
Like any skill, the most benefit is felt with consistent practice.

Many people run the belief that they cannot meditate. But mindfulness does not necessarily mean sitting cross legged in silent meditation for hours on end (although some people do practice in this way). We can be mindful when seated or lying down; when walking or eating; in fact, we can be mindful at any time of the waking day, even in the busiest of lives, with mindful moments. What is crucial for lasting changes to the brain, and consequently to fully engaging with life, is consistency, and with this in mind we leave you with a 30 second practice, that can be done at any time and in any place.

30 Second Mindfulness Moment

  1. Bring your attention to the present moment. Noticing your breath is a great place to start
  2. Look around and focus on any object
  3. Name the object “I see a Pen” (for example) (internally – not aloud – strange looks!)
  4. Now take three deep breaths in…and out
  5. Next focus on a new object. In the same way, name the object without ancillary information
  6. Take three deep breaths in…and out
  7. Now a third object
  8. And breathe…

You get the idea.

This can be done any time and any place. You may find that your breathing slows, along with your heart rate. If you have more than 30 seconds, you might engage other senses:

  1. Listen.“I hear traffic”
  2. Take three deep breaths
  3. Repeat for three sounds
  1. Feel.“I feel my feet on the floor”
  2. Take three deep breaths
  3. Repeat for three sensations

If you would like to further your mindfulness practice, there are many ways to approach this. There are free apps for phones, such as ‘Insight Timer’, which offers a vast range of practices. To take your practice to the next level, search providers who offer eight-week programmes for adults, and these generally focusing on mindfulness for stress or for health.

Next Generation Health is a collective of like-minded health professionals compelled to take action for the good of young people and families.

Along with training to teach the Youth Mindfulness Programme, they have decades of NHS and external experience with children and families, and a host of qualifications in nutrition, behaviour change and fitness.
They deliver the 16 session Youth Mindfulness programme as open courses for children and families in the north west of England.

For more on Next Generation Health, and to learn about family open courses: