Mental Health Crisis Amongst Young People in Luxembourg – What Can We Do as Parents ?
Back in October I took part in an interview for the RTL radio programme “Conversations with Lisa Burke”. At this time, she asked me to talk about what we could do in our families to boost our happiness levels through the winter months. In response to this we came up with a 5-point plan which included “Touch, Talk, Take Action, Time Out and Trust”.
Five months later, and with little light at the end of the tunnel for an end to the crisis, we are faced with a new and disturbing problem – the disrupted mental health of our children and adolescents.
For many young people, not necessarily concerned for their physical health by the virus, we have seen signs of rising levels of anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts due to the pressures of homeschooling and keeping up academically, social isolation and disruption of their routines. In an attempt to recognise this problem the Luxembourg Schools Psychological Services (cePAS) have recently released a leaflet for teachers and educators. The leaflet highlights the signs of mental health problems to look for and suggests ways to encourage young people to talk about them and/or seek more specialist support from organisation like Kanner Jugend Helpline who in particular offer an Online Help Service for children and youths in English. The Luxembourg Health Ministry have also launched a Youth Mental Health campaign on social media using the hashtag #act4support.
But What Can We Do as Parents?
If you have not listened to the RTL podcast aired in January, I would suggest it as a good overview of the 5 things we can do in our families and communities to help boost resilience at this time. However, since then with the emergence of this alarming concern for the mental health of our children and adolescent I have added a number one new point – Tune In.
The 6 Point Plan for Parents
Human beings are incredibly adaptable in that under stress and over time we tend to ‘tune out’ as a coping mechanism. This coping mechanism allows us to carry on even when faced with a long-term anxiety provoking situation like the pandemic. Tuning out means we stop listening or paying attention to something, in this case to the thing that is causing distress. This might seem a good idea but in some cases we may start to lose connection with ourselves, others and our environment leading to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Tuning in is the process by which we give space to these thoughts and feelings for ourselves and others.
For teachers and parents this means being aware of some of the signs of underlying mental health problems like outbursts of anger or defiant behaviour without obvious cause, panic attacks or increased anxiety, self-harming behaviours, listlessness or tiredness, problems with sleeping, long periods of social isolation (hiding in bedrooms), lack of concentration or disinterest in activities they used to enjoy.
For younger children they might become more clingy, whiny or having more tantrums, regressing to bed-wetting or earlier developmental stages. If you notice any of these signs in your child, it is important to give them some space to explore their thoughts and feelings. This will enable them to ‘tune in’ and re-connect to their own particular experiences. This leads to the second point in our 6-point plan ‘talk’.
Allowing our children to talk openly, without judgment or interruption, is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. This may sound obvious but in real time, for most people, is very difficult to do. As parents we naturally want to help our children avoid having ‘bad’ feelings; we want to give advice and solutions, to deny that it could be “THAT bad!” and to ‘make it better’. It can be very challenging sitting with our children’s feelings of disappointment, pain or hurt, anger, grief or loss. But for children being able explore these feelings, whilst having someone who loves them really listen, helps them to build resilience and better coping styles when dealing with the inevitable ups and downs of life.
We also need as parents to model behaviour like talking openly about thoughts and feelings, normalising that we are all likely to feel anxious or stressed about this situation over time, and that it is always ok to talk about it. If you, or your children, feel the need to talk to someone confidentially and anonymously contact www.kjt.lu (see other resources).
In my previous article “Back to School Blues: Why We Need to Hug our Kids More than Ever Before”, I wrote about how our children are experiencing the feeling of ‘touch deprivation’ or ‘touch hunger’ and what we can do to counter this phenomenon. This is due to the lack of physical contact they are getting outside the home, at school or engaging in activities including contact sports. I definitely witnessed this during lockdown here in Luxembourg when my normally confident and outgoing daughter started to visibly withdraw because she could not hug and play with her friends.
In October last year the BBC released the results of an extraordinary piece of research involving almost 40,000 people that coincidentally was taking place in the UK prior to the lock down. Amazingly they found that 72% of people reported a positive attitude towards touch whilst 43% of typical adults felt that society did not enable them to touch enough and this was BEFORE lockdown. The BBC Radio4 programme “Anatomy of Touch” outlines the research and gives insight to similar research happening across the globe.
But what can this kind of research do to help us? Well for a start, it actually gives us a conversation opener especially with older children or teenagers. As a family or one-to-one take time to talk about how they feel about how not being able to touch each other and social distancing, how is this affecting them in terms of play, sport or other activities, social contact like greeting friends and possibly more intimate contact with friends and family who they cannot physically see at present. At home try and initiate more physical contact in the family like hugs, massages, high fives and fist bumps.
Taking action includes activities that may help your children to develop coping skills to deal with stress and anxiety. Most importantly we all need to be encouraged to get outside (away from screens) and get physical. There is a huge amount of research that shows the positive correlation between improving (or changing) our mood and physical movement. This has become a challenge for most of us with pools, gyms and other sporting activities disrupted by the pandemic. It can be particularly challenging to get non-sporty teenagers out into nature and the mere mention of a ‘family walk’ can cause complete meltdown. But even a solitary walk around the block or village can help.
Taking action for younger children can mean engaging in more play with them especially social play with favourite toys or stuffed animals. With encouragement this gives an opportunity for children to role play their experiences – let their toys talk for them e.g. ‘how does your favourite bear feel about going to school when all the children and teachers have to wear mask?’.
Taking action can also mean thinking about giving purpose or meaning to the situation. What can you do as a family? Offer to help out an elderly neighbour – collect their groceries or weed their garden, draw or write postcards to people in retirement homes or volunteer for a local charity. Finding meaning or purpose beyond our everyday lives can really boost our levels of happiness and therefore resilience.
Time Out is about taking time for self-care. We all need to understand the importance of knowing what helps us to relax and recuperate. This may be time to read a good book, play your favourite board game, a warm bubbly bath, engaging a in your hobby, a long walk or listening to your favourite music, it may be time alone or time with friends. As parents we need to talk about this and model this behaviour for our children. Time Out at present may also need to include time away from digital devises for us all. Again, this can be challenging with homeschooling/working the norm at present however, we cannot expect our children to create good habits regarding time out from screens if we don’t do it ourselves.
Finally, I have included ‘trust’ on this list because ‘trust’ and ‘love’ go hand in hand. It is important that our children know that we trust them and believe that fundamentally they will be OK. Love may be a given, but trust is an assumption that we can choose to accept or not. When we attentively listen to our children, especially older children or teenagers, without judgement we are showing them that we trust that they know themselves and will find their own answers to their challenges in life. Trust is what connects us in our intimate relationships, our families and our communities. Children like adults are remarkably resilient and can often grow through traumatic events given the chance.
As long as we create safe spaces in our families, schools and communities for our children and adolescents to share their experiences, feeling and thoughts about the pandemic and challenges they are facing – we can trust in a hopeful future.
KJT: Online Anonymous and Confidential Support in English for Parents and Children. A Helpline is available in German , French & Luxembourgish for Children on 116 111. Text Chat for Youths service will be launched later this year.
Opportunities to Volunteer in Luxembourg
Serve the City: Volunteering Projects in Luxembourg.
Passage, Parent Support Group: Be part of our support group for parents.
Telstar International Scouts: Adults are always needed to help provide engaging activities for young people.
Special Olympics: Providing sporting activities for the people with Intellectual Disabilities.
CePAS: Remaining vigilant during the pandemic: observational approaches in educational work
Article by: Lynn Frank who is a coordinator for Passage.
Last updated: Monday 8th March, 2021