Its carer's week this week (12th - 18th June 2017)!
Did you know that there's 6.5 million carers across the UK (Carers Week, 2017), of which 700,000 of those are young?
That works out at roughly 1 in every 12 secondary school child (Carers Trust, 2017).
A young carer is simply any individual who is under 18 that looks after a relative who is struggling with a physical or mental health condition (Joseph, S. 2013).
Many children are struggling to deal with all the stressors of modern life (1 in 10 are struggling with mental ill health (Mental Health Foundation), imagine if looking after your parents or a sibling was also thrown into the mix?
Young people who are also carers are more likely to miss school (1 in 20), they're also often the target of bullying (26%) and for 39% of young carers the school are unaware of the situation (Carers Trust, 2017).
Those who become young carers often end up struggling with mental or physical ill health themselves (Clarkson, J., et al. 2008).
As a mental health professional, I know just how difficult it can be supporting someone through mental ill health - and I've had years of training to help someone turn their lives around...
I can only imagine how difficult it must be supporting someone who is struggling day in day out.
Back in 2008, a survey reported that 84% of young carers would reach out to a young carer's worker for support and 44% to their parents (Clarkson, J., et al. 2008). Although it also transpired that many could not speak to a young carer's worker when they needed to and often the parents are unable to do much to help.
It's unsurprising then that 88% reported feeling down about their situation, 81% feeling stressed and 53% feeling angry. What's truly worrying is that some in the same survey said they would self-harm because of their situation (Clarkson, J., et al. 2008).
I am writing this post today to not only help you as parent support your children, but maybe, just maybe, some of you reading this are currently being supported by your children and so young carers can too benefit.
The other week I spoke about a 'morning happy game' (Woodland, K. 2017) which can be extremely useful in this situation, but I'd also like to teach you something which will be slightly more specific.
Children have fantastic imaginations and there is a way this power can be harnessed to increase mental and emotional resilience - if nurtured.
In the adult self-development world many coaches and lifestyle 'guru's' talk about visualisation as a means to achieve goals.
But, just using visualisation for this process, in my eyes, is the same as a digestive biscuit without the chocolate - it's such a waste!
Visualisation is such a powerful tool for overcoming fears that have hounded people for years (including those struggling with PTSD (Smucker, M., et al. 1995)), and has been shown to support people in overcoming pains which appear in limbs which are no longer there (Ogden, J. 2012).
The best thing about visualisation is that anyone can do it, its super simple, it's really quick and no one will ever know that you're doing it.
But what should they be visualising?
Well, anything that makes them feel happy, calm and relaxed.
OK, so that in itself is really not helpful.
But it's true.
This will always be a uniquely personal experience.
What makes me happy (e.g., going for a walk with the dogs in the woods) may very well be an absolute nightmare for someone else!
So first, they need to think about a time, place, event, subject... something that has made them feel good.
Next, get them to write it out in as much detail as possible - when did this happy event take place? Who was there? What happened?
Most importantly, they need to write down how they felt.
Did they feel happy, loved, joyful, ecstatic, over the moon...?
You see, it's the feeling that's the important part.
Replaying an event in our mind is cool, but replaying the event and bringing fourth those positive feelings will help reinvigorate those feelings in the present moment.
Have your child take this piece of paper with them wherever they go so that they can pull it out, read through it and then imagine themselves there whenever they need it - for as long as they need to.
While, the visualisation is a key part of this, if someone is stressed or struggling being able to recall information is extremely difficult.
Having the written version to hand will help them recall the memories needed to bring on the positive feelings.
When we are happy, we cannot be sad.
It's physically impossible.
The more your child is happy (even if they're 'forcing' it in the beginning), the more they will do things that make them become happy and ultimately the more happy they will be (it's one of the premises for CBT [thoughts driving behaviours & vice versa]).
It's important to get your child to practice when they're not stressed imprinting this memory alongside the associated feelings.
It's also super important that you too do this.
You need to model this behaviour, show them that you believe in it and it's a worthwhile exercise.
Oh, and in a few weeks - you'll also start to feel happier.
What we're doing is like 'positive' or 'reversed' PTSD.
PTSD is so strong and so powerful in psychologically harming a person because the physiological and mental responses happen in sync and often people are so fully immersed in the memory it's as though it's happening again and again.
The stronger the feelings, emotional and physiological attributes are imprinted onto the memory the stronger they come back when that memory is either recalled or triggered.
If your child finds it really difficult to think of something they found fun, enjoyable or happy this may be an indication that they're already struggling emotionally/mentally.
There are many organisations which support children and teenagers through emotional/mental turmoil.
It's something I do both face to face and virtually and if you are struggling to access support in your local area please don't hesitate to get in touch on 01952 796062 to see if I can help you and your child through this difficult time.
Good luck & I hope this helps build emotional/mental resilience.
Catch up with you soon, Katie.
Carers Trust (2017) About Young Carers. Retrieved 29/05/2017 from: https://carers.org/about-us/about-young-carers
Carers Week (2017). About Carers Week: 18-12 June 2017. Retrieved on 29/05/2017 from: http://www.carersweek.org/about-us
Clarkson, Jenny., Frank, Jenny., Lucantoni, Luisa., & Fox, Alex. (2008). Emotional Support For Young Carers. The Royal College of Psychiatrists. Retrieved on 29/05/2017 from: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/parentsandyouthinfo/youngpeople/emotionalsupport.aspx
Joseph, Stephen. (2013). Young Carers. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 29/05/2017 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201307/young-carers
Mental Health Foundation (n.d.). Children and Young People. Retrieved on 29/05/2017 from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/c/children-and-young-people
Ogden, J. (2012). Clearing the Brain of Phantom Pain. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 29/05/2017 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trouble-in-mind/201205/clearing-the-brain-phantom-pain
Smucker, Melvin, R., Dancu, Constance, Foa., Edna, B & Niederee, Jan, L. (1995). Imagery Rescripting: A New Treatment for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Suffering From Posttraumatic Stress. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. Volume 9 Issue. 1.
Woodland, Katie (2017). How to Reduce Your Child's Anxieties. HuffingtonPost Parent Voices. Retrieved on 31/05/2017 from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/katie-woodland/how-to-reduce-your-childs_b_16880966.html