My heart is heavy. How has someone let her get that low and feel so unloved? How am I going to support her in the five one hour mentoring sessions the school can only offer due to more funding cuts? So many questions spiraling through my mind as I return home from mentoring a student with a heap of safeguarding concerns. Another student unable to bounce back into day to day living due to life’s stressors. Heartbreaking.
My cheeks begin to stain with tears as I contemplate all the students I meet who are not equipped with the skills to cope with life’s adversities – so often which are uncontrollably placed on them. Parents divorcing to academic pressures, being taken into care or experiencing bullying – all of these scattered across the mentoring cases I have.
‘Jesus wept’. Two immensely powerful words that spring to mind as I wipe away my tears and that comforts my aching soul as I sit and think of the students who sat across from me and cried. A final thought of ‘What about all those who have fallen through the net because they’re not ‘unwell enough’ to receive support?’ goes around my mind as I move to my desk. I sit and begin to plan how to help this young person become more resilient.
It is no secret that we have a growing generation that are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. The latest buzzword to add to conversation is ‘resilience’ – the ability to adapt and bounce back in a healthy manner from life’s difficulties. All of a sudden, this word seems to appear everywhere; from news headlines to government papers; charitable slogans to school ethos. It’s a word that needs to become part of our funding applications and our Sunday sermons. With endless waiting lists for CAMHS and a lack of GP mental health training and workers – like us – firefighting situations, there is no hiding that our children and young people are at crisis point.
You see resilience isn’t a pill you can take or an injection you can receive. It isn’t a specific prayer that can be said or a vow that is taken. It is something acquired through life’s experiences and like a good wine, it matures over time. Often it is mistaken as weakness or vulnerability but it is very much about creating a skill set which supports our capacity to cope in life – a strength, not a weakness. It requires vulnerable roles models displaying what resisting life stressors truly looks like, and teachers willing to make the time and have the patience to educate generations. Resilience needs to be engrained in us all so as to become a ‘normality’ rather than a ‘special skill’ taught to a select few.
The skills to be resilient are needed more than ever with 1 in 10 children aged between 5-16 years having a clinically diagnosable mental health problem – that’s around three children in every class! The fact that over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression alone shows our younger generations need to become resilient beings. If we pause and take a moment to think about a child’s life before their 18th birthday, the amount of adversity they could face is huge! This could range greatly from family breakdown to social pressures – all areas of their lives being effected and even the most resilient child can become drained from extreme circumstances. It seems we’re facing a generation of younger beings who are barely having their physiological and safety needs being met; let alone having a sense of love and belonging, leaving no room to build resilience. For children and young people, life truly is a mind field of uncertainty.
To ignore this pressing issue of providing mental health support that is at breaking point for us would be irresponsible and ignorant. If we sit and wait for the government to find a solution that equates to the scale of the problem, then we will wait and wait failing our children and young people in the process. With nothing done we will watch our younger generations crumble like snowflakes in the hands of the world; unique individuals disappearing as quickly as they are formed.
As a result of recognising the reality under 18’s face, the big question left for us as workers who interact with these generations, both in the present time and future, is – how are we teaching our under 18’s to resist adversity, cope with uncertainty and recover more successfully from life’s events?*
Take a moment to imagine a society where it was the norm to discuss how we’re feeling without being ridiculed by gender stereotypes or weakness; to be encouraged to take risks without the looming fear of uncertainty. What if we believed that whatever life throws at us we have the power to become a healthier person as a result. Resilience is a huge and powerful topic and we’re only just scratching the surface of creating a resilient society.
I believe it is time we all – children, families and youth workers – unite together and become myth busters and resilient teachers; modelling resilience in the face of adversity, equipping younger generations to grow into resilient beings. Let us become infectious people contaminating our schools, churches and home lives with the skills to be resilient.
I am in no way saying we can replace the professionals out there like psychiatrists, GP’s and other mental health care professionals. Some cases need that level of intervention and that must be led by the correct professionals with relevant training, qualifications and experience. I am focusing on early intervention that all can practice, but if for any reason you have a cause for concern speak to the person in charge of safeguarding – they can then know if that individual needs to be referred to higher levels of intervention. Additionally, as Christians we cannot believe we have the power to heal every child we encounter. We are vessels of God and what a privilege we have of supporting the broken. God has the power to heal and if he chooses to heal through us then all glory to Him.
The exciting news is we don’t need to be experts or have specialist training to promote positive resilience to our children and young people. The reality is we can start right now! Take a moment to think:
Is there a way you can incorporate this topic into your already established programmes?
Is there a Bible passage you’re exploring with them that displays Jesus’ resilience?
Is there someone in the church family who could come and tell a story of resilience?
Resilience is like our emotional immune system – it needs to be built up over time but just like an attack of the winter flu, it could do with a boost. Here are some ways you can help the younger generation boost their resilience.
Children’s workers: Create a resilient superhero that shows the person we want to be like. It could include how to react and what to do when a bad situation happens. For example, if someone was picking on you. How would you respond? What would the resilient hero do? Maybe it could even be a tool that is used every week as a way to remember the people we want to be/become.
Family workers: Looking at the family unit, how can they become a more resilient family? Create a poster with all the ideas. For example, making an active choice to come together and support each other when someone has had a bad day.
Youth workers: Split the group up and ask them to create a scenario about a challenge in life – for example, a teenager whose parents are getting divorced. Swap scenarios with another group and ask them to identify what advice they’d give that person? How could they become more resilient out of that situation?
As I reflect on the four mentoring sessions I wrote sat at my desk with tear stained cheeks, my mind begins to wonder – how resilient are we as children, families and youth workers? If we take a moment to stop and think about our work lives over the last six months – how have we demonstrated resilience to those around us? How quickly, if at all, did we bounce back from that challenging supervision meeting or that heart wrenching mentoring session? How did we show resilience to ourselves when we feel like the loneliest worker because the church family “just don’t get it”?
Moving forward, here are some ways you can support yourself and others around you to become resilient beings:
– Get to know the mental health services in your area so you can advise others where to go for support.
– Put yourself in the shoes of those you work with, is there support on offer for them to be resilient beings?
– Pray for ideas, inspiration and the knowledge to know how to support others.
– Seek out proper supervision where you can process your work fully and bounce back into a healthier, more resilient worker. Encourage others to do so as well.
– To help boost your confidence, seek out relevant training in your area. This could be local or national so you can be equipped as possible.
– Have a resilient team day! Get all your work team together and have fun playing resilient games and activities.
As I referred to at the beginning, two of the most powerful words in scripture for me are ‘Jesus wept’. I believe Jesus would weep for our younger generations at the amount of adversity they face and the lack of support they receive to cope with it. But Jesus didn’t just weep and do nothing – He provided hope. It is time for us as the Body of Christ to continue to provide hope to our children and young people in the form of resilience. If we can complete this in our churches, then we might just have something to offer the wider world.
This article featured in Premier Youth and Children’s Work in Feb 2017
* (Newman, T. (2002). Promoting Resilience: A Review of Effective Strategies for Child Care Services (Exeter: CEBSS)