A lot of the mentoring support we offer to girls in both primary and secondary school is with girls who are struggling to manage high levels of anxiety. So how can we effectively support girls who are struggling on a daily basis? We are fortunate to know some great champions in the field of supporting children and young people and Jane Evans is one of them. Thank you Jane for sharing your thoughts and experience on how to help and support teenage girls.
If you read this and feel that a mentor would be something you woul like, pease do get in touch with us . Email Vicky at firstname.lastname@example.org:)
Is it hard to spot signs of anxiety or depression in teenage girls?
A recent headline caught my eye. One in four teenage girls are depressed, by their own accounts According to a major study by University College London,
“The research which tracked more than 10,000 teenagers found widespread emotional problems among today’s youth, with misery, loneliness and self-hate rife.”
Very concerning is that researchers shone a light on howparents often misunderstand or under estimate the signs of depression in girls. I am left wondering if that’s because we teach girls to show up and smile more, or attribute it to ‘time of the month?, or are they really struggling too?
“Ms Feuchtwang said: “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs.”
How does anxiety or depression show up in the daily life of a teenage girl?
That’s the $1000, 000 question.
“Anxiety is a normal adaptive system that lets the body know when it’s in danger. But anxiety becomes a problem when it’s out of proportion to the situation, and interferes with a person’s ability to function.”
Source: Child Mind Institute
• Frets about EVERYTHING and can’t be reassured about anything
• Big emotional responses to tiny life events – can’t find a favourite pen
• Has to look PERFECT – can’t leave home otherwise
• Isolates themselves as being around other is TOO stressful
• Huge amounts of time on social media
• Very distressed by comments or lack of ‘likes’ on social media
• Overly forgetful (forgetfulness is part of having a teenage brain)
• Repeated urinary infections or discomfort (can also be sign of other things too)
• Constipation or IBS
• Very painful periods – big reaction to the pain – gets panicked and overwhelmed by it
• Struggles to sustain friendships – fallouts are normal but if there are few/no sustained friendships
• Worries about events way in advance
• Repetitive worries and concerns – same thought patterns
• Prepares EVERYTHING well in advance to a point of perfection
• Under eats/Over eats
• Self-soothes with alcohol, excessive screen time, cigarettes, food, sexual activity, risk-taking behaviours, cutting and other body injuries
• Hyper active/exhausted
• Repeat colds, headaches, cold sores, poor sleep, skin conditions, breathing difficulties
• Fidgets/restless body and mind
“Depression is an internalizing disorder, i.e. one that disturbs a patient’s emotional life, rather than an externalizing one, which manifests in the form of disruptive or problematic behaviour.”
Source: Child Mind Institute
• Withdraws from family and friends
• Very listless all of the time
• Struggles to sustain any kind of conversation
• Cries a great deal
• Very ‘people-pleasing’ (also with anxiety)
• Poor hygiene
• Heavy make-up (mask on every day)
• Stops sports/interests usually really enjoyed
• Shows and experiences no joy for life
Trust your gut
When you google search signs and symptoms of…. so many come up it can feel overwhelming. Young Minds UK has a helpline and accessible information for young people and their carers so it’s a good place to start.
It may seem a bit lame BUT my greatest advice is DON’T PANIC! Unless you have the slightest notion that self-harm is happening or suicidal thoughts are occurring, or you see any signs. For example pay attention to doodles they may be doing, or new interests in anything dark. Be alert, and always act if you have ANY sense they are thinking of harming themselves, even if they get upset with you.
Trust your gut because it is your intuition. We have a second brain in our gut system so if anything about them is making you feel a bit panicked or stressed don’t ignore it. Having bite-sized feelings based check-ins is vital. It may be that you have to put your suit of armour on to attempt them but you can take it off afterwards.
Keep it light
Start with something they are normally interested in, e.g. if they watch a reality show then keep an eye on who is in or out. “OOOOOOO I saw Kyle got evicted last night, was that a shock?” Of course not all teenage girls watch such things so find out what they normally do and study them a bit.
Expect some eye rolling, or for them not to respond. If they get angry, apologise,
“Sorry you are right I am trying too hard! It’s just I am worried about you. I realise I should be checking in with you more and didn’t know how to start!
What would you rather I do? I am going to keep on checking-in so let’s find a simple system you prefer. I could put a note under the door to WARN you I’m coming to talk crap to you? I could give you a text warning (said with humour).”
Then you can move to checking in with how they are feeling. You might want to explore if they would like to also have support from a Cherished Mentor, or a counsellor or other family member, or someone else. An adult they can trust over time, who will only share information with you that, is about keeping them safe.
Keep yourself well
Having raised a teenage boy with some complex health needs as he was going through puberty too, I have made many mistakes but he taught me, when I was humble enough to pay attention to his signs and needs. My biggest error was to not have emotional support for myself as I didn’t know who to turn to, or how to ask. Finally we were assigned someone and that did make a difference as I could say what I needed to and have someone support me.
Try hard to find someone who LISTENS rather than advises! We often think that if someone would just tell me what to do. That is very important as learning with experts who have studied teenage mental wellbeing is really useful BUT without a place to get your feelings heard and held it’s hard to take on additional information. Your emotional, mental and physical wellness really matter if you are to support them in a really useful way that brings both short and long-term changes in their lives.
Wellness & Resilience
Speaker – Coach – Trainer – Author
TED Talk on understanding anxiety (which they may watch!)
Understanding changes in the teenage brain