Mental illness: getting help

Depression, anxiety, being bullied or bullying others, self-harming, suicidal thoughts or plans, eating problems, risk-taking, substance misuse, sex pressures – all these harmful behaviours are responses to emotional difficulty.

We use them as ways to deflect, distract, deny, modify and avoid our core feelings underneath. The only way to recover from emotional distress and trauma is to confront and welcome those feelings in, to see them as helpful warning signs that are there to teach you how to manage life.

Because ‘welcoming difficult feelings in’ can sound impossible and the last thing you want to do, getting help is vital. Just like the jolt of pain under a decaying tooth, or the pain we feel if we touch something hot, emotional pain is a great teacher – it’s there to raise the alarm and warn us something needs attention so we can fix it. It’s from our struggles that we learn and develop, and feel proud of ourselves.

Often we need a professional listener (counsellor/therapist) to help us make connections – between past and present, unconscious and conscious, feeling and thinking – and to feel supported when things are painful. Most schools now have their own counsellor on the staff or access to a confidential counselling service, so that could be a good place to start to ask for help. It can be hard to take the first step, but it really DOES help to talk in a safe, confidential place. Counselling is where you can talk about the things you felt you could never talk about, but you go at your own pace; no-one forces you to talk and counsellors understand how hard it is to open up.

Is there a quick fix?
It is possible to be prescribed medication for conditions such as depression or severe anxiety. Ideally these should be prescribed alongside talking therapies. Your GP will be able to talk to you about the pros and cons.

Medication might help you out of a deep emotional hole, like someone throwing a ladder down the well, but you also need help to find the strength to climb out of the well and to recover. You need to discover what made you fall down there in the first place so you can avoid falling in again. Medication can be useful but it won’t make you better long-term; it masks the feelings and as it’s the feelings that need attention. At some point you need to listen to your distress, not just brush it out of the way.

Mankind is very clever at inventing things that supposedly make life easier, but now we are discovering that when we go for the quick-fixes we miss out on the actual journey of living which is the thing that makes life worthwhile. Quick-fixes sometimes have their place along the way, like plugging a leaking water tank with a towel while you wait for the plumber, but they are not the answer to feeding our souls with things that matter.

The important thing to remember is that it is much better to talk to someone than to try to work it out for yourself. Please do not be afraid to ask for help.

Where to get help

  • Find out whether your school has a counselling service
  • Ask an adult you trust (such as a relative, a friend’s parent, a club leader)
  • See your GP (you can ask that it be in confidence, but this will depend on your age)

There are also several excellent organisations to go to for help. Click on the links below to find out more:

  • Relate has an excellent website with information about counselling for young people. They are experts in all kinds of relationships.
  • Young Minds – a UK charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people
  • The Mix – a charity website for 13–25-year-olds, aims to answer any embarrassing question with digital and phone support services
  • The Mental Health Foundation – a charity dedicated to ensuring everyone has access to good mental health
  • Youth Access – national membership organisation for young people’s information, advice and counselling services(YIACS). Will help you find free services near you
  • Samaritans – a UK charity offering online help, or you can call in confidence any time on 116 123.
  • Childline – advice, support, information online or on the phone, any time. Call 0800 1111
  • Anxiety UK – a national charity set up to help people affected by anxiety
  • Child Bereavement UK – a national charity providing information, advice and support for anyone suffering from a bereavement.