Recovery and staying well
The journey to treatment and recovery will be different for everyone, and there’s often no clear beginning and end. Some people may experience only one episode of anxiety or depression, while others will find that their symptoms return at different times in their life and will need to find ways of managing these.
Your young person might find themselves thinking about how anxiety or depression has changed their life. There might also be times where they feel angry about having anxiety or depression, or that it seems unfair. These are common reactions. You can help by reassuring them that anxiety and depression are common, treatable conditions, and that they won’t always feel like this – with the right support, they will learn to manage their symptoms and things will get better.
It can also be helpful to explain wellbeing to your young person in terms of a spectrum. Mental health is at one end of the spectrum, where we’re feeling good and functioning well. Mental health conditions (or mental illness) are at the other end, represented by symptoms that affect our thoughts, feelings or behaviour. Mental health is not fixed or static, and we can move back and forth along this spectrum at different times during our lives.
What young people can do
There are a range of things that young people can do to manage their symptoms, help to improve their quality of life and reach their goals and potential.
- reaching out and asking for support from family and friends
- seeking professional support
- keeping physically healthy
- managing stress
- building and maintaining strong connections with their cultural heritage and community.
Helping a young person with anxiety or depression can take many forms. You might offer practical, emotional, or financial support. You might help them manage their symptoms, or you might be in a position where you’re only able to offer your support and wait for an opportunity to do more.
There are some young people who may not want help. This doesn’t mean that you don’t help them; it just means that you have to be very thoughtful and sometimes creative about how you approach the situation.
Recovery can take time. Acknowledging your young person’s achievements and strengths throughout this time is very empowering. Celebrate their success, no matter how small. When they meet a specific goal or reach a milestone in their recovery plan, you could prepare a celebration or offer a small reward. This could be as simple as cooking a favourite meal, offering a special home privilege or giving a small gift.
“I am feeling confident that this is the right move for him and he is already showing positive small steps. Small steps…. but moving forward.” Robert, parent
Keeping a look out
Recognise triggers and warning signs
Difficult situations or events can affect how a young person is feeling and could trigger a relapse. Some of these might include:
- family and relationship problems
- financial difficulties
- change in living arrangements
- employment issues
- drug and alcohol use
- other medical problems.
You can support your young person by helping them manage tricky situations, breaking down problems so they’re less overwhelming and providing practical support.
Warning signs are signals or clues that a young person may be feeling depressed or anxious. Often family and friends can notice changes in how they’re behaving, acting or feeling. Sometimes the symptoms may worsen gradually and you might pick up on subtle shifts in your young person’s thoughts and feelings. Some warning signs may include:
- feeling irritable, stressed and teary
- withdrawing from social events and activities
- changes in sleeping habits
- skipping meals and eating unhealthily.
It’s helpful for young people to learn to identify and manage their own warning signs. This enables them to be prepared, respond quickly, and take control or focus their thoughts, helping to keep their symptoms from getting worse.
Be prepared for setbacks
Many people experience setbacks, or feel like they’re taking steps backwards when they expect to start feeling better. If this happens, it’s easy to feel like you’re back to square one and ‘it’s all too hard’. That’s when support from friends and family is most important.
Remind your young person that setbacks are normal – there’s no need for blame or hopelessness. Remind them of when this happened before and they were able to bounce back. Or try flipping things around and focus on the positives – what did they learn about themselves? Even figuring out what doesn’t work and thinking about new ways of managing symptoms is a step in the right direction.
Perseverance is key. Sometimes it may feel like nothing is progressing or changing, or that nothing you do matters or helps – but it does. While young people may not acknowledge how important your support and care is at the time, many recognise and appreciate it later.