For Young People
Many people worry about what they eat at times. However, eating problems develop when someone is extremely preoccupied with food, weight and shape and they stop eating a regular balanced diet.
When these problems become very serious they may be classified as eating disorders. These can be very serious and life threatening disorders.
Eating Disorders can be related to difficult situations you are experiencing or painful feelings, which you may be finding hard to talk about or solve. Focusing on food can be a way of trying to have more control over things that feel very difficult.
Common eating disorders are Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating and these can affect both males and females.
Anorexia: Is when people are extremely preoccupied with their weight and shape, with a fixed belief that they are overweight. They severely restrict their food intake as a way of losing weight and become dangerously underweight. As well as food restricting, people may engage in other behaviours, such as over-exercising and vomiting.
Bulimia: Involves eating lots of food at once, often in secret, and then vomiting or using laxatives. This is called binging and purging. Doing this over a long period of time can cause serious health concerns.
Binge eating: Is when people eat a lot in a short period of time. This normally happens when they are alone and they may feel out of control. People may binge eat to manage distressing emotions and try to make themselves feel better.
Why do people develop eating disorders?
People develop eating disorders for a number of different reasons. Some factors which may contribute are:
FAMILY LIFE: Difficulties and changes within your family e.g. divorce/ separation, not getting along and conflict.
PERSONALITY TRAITS: Certain characteristics can make you more vulnerable including perfectionism/ high standards, competitiveness and being self-critical
LOW SELF ESTEEM: This is when you have a very poor view of yourself and you may feel you are worthless. You may have been bullied or had other negative past experiences of childhood traumas.
POOR BODY IMAGE: Not being happy with the way you look. Very worried about your weight and shape.
MEDIA PRESSURE: Representation of people in media give the message that we should appear in an idealised way. These images are not achievable by most people and may have been manipulated (e.g. through airbrushing).
PEER PRESSURE: Wanting to look like your friends or be accepted by them. Sometimes young people even socialise on pro– anorexia (pro– ana) websites which encourage eating disorder behaviours and minimise the dangers involved.
Effects of Eating disorders
Eating disorders can be very serious mental illnesses and even life threatening. It is important to reach out and get help and support as soon as you can.
Medical Complications Of Anorexia Includes:
- Muscle loss and weakness.
- Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure
- Fainting, fatigue and overall weakness.
- Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
- Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common.
- Risk of heart failure and in severe cases death.
Medical Complications of Bulimia Include:
- Purging behaviours can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death.
- Potential for gastric rupture during periods of binging.
- Inflammation and possible rupture of the oesophagus from frequent vomiting.
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
- Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
- Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.
Medical Complications of Disorders:
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Heart disease.
- Gallbladder disease.
Like a car needs petrol and oil to run smoothly, we need food for our bodies to develop and run effectively.
The food pyramid is a food guide showing the proportions and types of food you need to make up a healthy balanced diet. A healthy diet consists of three meals and two snacks per day. Try to include each food group at each meal.
In the GHA there are professional people such as dieticians and counselors, who might be able to help. To get an appointment you need to be referred by your GP.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear. Everyone feels anxious at some point in their life, but for some people it can be an ongoing problem.
A little bit of anxiety can be helpful; for example, feeling anxious before an exam might make you more alert and improve your performance. You might feel anxious if you are doing something new, these feelings will decrease or disappear fully when you get used to the situation.
These feelings can become a problem when they are too strong or when they carry on even when we don’t need them anymore. They can make you uncomfortable, stop you from doing thing you want to – and can generally make life difficult.
What does Anxiety feel like?
Feeling anxious is very similar to how you might feel when you are frightened or excited.
- Feeling fearful or panicky
- Feeling breathless, sweaty, or complaining of ‘butterflies’ or pains in the chest or stomach
- Feeling tense, fidgety, using the toilet often
These symptoms may come and go.
Sometimes it is difficult to realise that you are feeling anxious and might be irritable, tearful and clingy, have difficulty sleeping and can wake up in the night or have bad dreams.
When do people feel anxious?
Different people might feel anxious in different situations. Some examples are shown below.
- If you are scared of heights you might feel anxious before boarding a plane
- Just before an exam you might feel anxious, because you want to do well
- Before you enter a party or a room, you might feel anxious because you might feel the center of attention
- Before you start a sports game or get ready to shoot a goal
- The first time you go on a school trip or sleep at a friend’s house
Is anxiety bad for you?
A little anxiety is fine, but long-term anxiety may cause more serious health problems. If you’re feeling anxious all the time, or it’s affecting your day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder.
Help for Anxiety
Sometimes all you might need to do is talk to someone, such as a trusted friend, parent, family member or teacher. You can also ring Childline on 8008 (daily between 5pm and 9pm)
If you are experiencing more severe symptoms, you might need help from a professional, such as your GP. Please note there are effective treatments available for anxiety and panic disorders and your GP can advise on what is best for you.
If you’re feeling stressed about taking exams, you aren’t alone. Get advice from us and other young people.
Worrying About Exams
Exam stress can start when you feel you can’t cope with revision, or if you feel pressure from your school or family. You might be worried you’re going to fail or that you won’t get the grades you need for the course or job you want.
It can seem scary to talk about stress or anxiety. You might feel like nobody else is feeling this way. But bottling up stress and trying to deal with it on your own can often make the stress worse. So it can really help to talk.
Tips for coping with stress:
- write down your worries – then throw the paper away or give it to someone you trust
- draw a picture of how you want to feel or what you want to happen
- go for a walk or do some exercise
- listen to calming music
- play a game to take your mind off your worries and stress for a bit
- remember that everyone’s different – try not to compare yourself to your friends.
Exam Results and Expectations
When we feel anxious, we often give ourselves negative messages like: ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m useless’ and ‘I’m going to fail’. It can be difficult but try to replace these with positive thoughts such as: ‘this is just anxiety, it can’t harm me’ and, ‘relax, concentrate – it’s going to be okay’.
Picturing how you’d like things to go can help you feel more positive. Try to imagine yourself turning up to an exam feeling confident and relaxed. You turn over your paper, write down what you do know and come away knowing you tried your best on the day.
It can sometimes feel like your whole future depends on what grades you get. There can be a lot of pressure on young people to do well in exams which can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. You might have been predicted certain grades or put into a higher set, and feel if you don’t get the grade you’ll let your teachers or parents down.
Remember, exams are important – but they’re not the only way to a successful future. Lots of people achieve success in life without doing well in school exams.
Beat Exam Stress
Remember, if you feel that you can’t cope with the pressure or are feeling stressed, find someone to talk to.
Don’t bottle it up! Try talking to:
- your teachers
- your friends
- your family
- a helpline volunteer at Childline.
Problems at Home?
If your family are arguing or going through a tough time, it can make finding time to revise and concentrate even more difficult. Things affecting your concentration could include:
- family arguments
- when someone dies
- problems with your girlfriend or boyfriend
- feeling like you want to hurt yourself
- depression and feeling sad
- having to look after people in your family.
If you feel any of these problems are affecting your school work or studying, it’s important to tell someone how you feel. This could be a teacher or a friend.
In some serious situations, your school might be able to make exceptions, such as marking your exam papers based on your work throughout the year, but your teacher can discuss this with you. You can always talk to a Childline volunteer. They’re there to listen to you and to support you.
What Can You Do?
Talking to someone you trust like a friend, teacher or family member could help. They might not be aware of how their attitude towards your exams is putting pressure on you.
Talking about how you’re feeling can reduce the pressure and help you to feel more in control. Get advice from other young people who may be in the same situation.
Every child and young person has the right to be looked after properly. If you’re not getting the important things you need at home, you could be being neglected.
What Neglect Means
There’s a difference between things we want and things we need. Some people might want a new games console. Or a new phone.
But these aren’t things you need. You need things like enough to eat and drink. And protection from danger. And clean clothes. Your parents or carers should make sure you have these things.
You also shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time looking after other people in your family without getting any support from an adult.
If you have a disability you should also be supported in whatever extra ways you need.
Every young person needs:
- clothes that are clean and warm and shoes that fit and keep you dry
- enough to eat and drink
- protection from dangerous situations
- somewhere warm, dry and comfortable to sleep
- help when you’re ill or you’ve been hurt
- love and care from your parents or carers
- support with your education
- access and help with medication if needed.
Speak to one of our helpline volunteers or chat online.
Reasons for Neglect
There could be lots of reasons why you are being neglected. Your family may be doing their best. But they might just not have enough money. Maybe someone who looks after you has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Or maybe they are having problems with their physical or mental health.
Whatever is happening is not your fault and you can get help.
Speaking Out About Neglect
If any of this is happening to you, it’s important to tell someone. You might think it’s your fault. But it isn’t. Every child and young person has the right to be looked after properly. Sometimes parents and carers can’t manage this by themselves.
How Can I Tell if Someone I Know is Being Neglected?
If you think a friend is being neglected, there are things you can do to help them. But it’s not always clear if someone’s experiencing neglect or not. If you’re worried about someone, you could see if you notice any of these things:
- they seem like they haven’t washed, are dirty or smelly, or their clothes seem dirty
- they are hungry or asking for other people’s food
- they often come to school with no lunch money or packed lunch
- their parents don’t seem to know where they are or what they are doing
- they often don’t turn up for school, or they often arrive late
- they don’t seem to have many friends
- they get sent to school even when they are really unwell
It can be hard to decide how to support your friend if you notice any of these things. Maybe you could start by talking to an adult that you trust.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking your friend about it you can always talk to a Childline helpline volunteer.
Am I Being Neglected?
It can be hard to work out if you’re being neglected. Sometimes parents may not even realise they’re neglecting their children. If you’re worried about anything to do with neglect, you can contact Childline for a chat with a helpline volunteer any time.
If you’ve been sexually abused, or know somebody who has, we’re here to help. On this page you’ll find information about what you can do, who you can talk to and where to find the support you need.
What Is Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse is when someone is forced, pressurised or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with another person.
Examples of sexual abuse include:
- being touched in a way you don’t like without giving permission or consent
- someone flashing or exposing themselves to you online or offline
- being forced to have sex (intercourse), look at sexual pictures or videos, do something sexual or watch someone do something sexual.
- Sexual abuse can include lots of things like rape and sexual assault, sexual harassment, online grooming and domestic abuse or violence.
It can also include sexual exploitation (being pressured into having sex with someone in return for getting something like money or drugs), sexting or child pornography.
6 facts about sexual abuse:
- sexual abuse can happen to both girls and boys
- someone could be sexually abused by a stranger, somebody you love and trust or a boyfriend or girlfriend
- someone could be sexually abused by a person of the same sex
- sexual abuse isn’t always ‘full sex’ – it can also include touching, kissing, oral sex or anything sexual
- sexual abuse can happen online as well as offline
- you’re not alone and there are people who can help you.
Why Sexual Abuse Can Happen
It’s normal to want to know why it can or has happened. It’s nothing to do with who you are, or what you’ve said or done. Some people want to feel power and control.
They know what they’re doing is wrong. They might tell you to keep it a secret or try and make you believe that it’s okay. This is called ‘grooming’ which is a way to build up trust with you so they can keep abusing you. Grooming also happens online.
How To Tell Someone You’ve Been Sexually Abused
If you’ve been sexually abused and you’re not sure how to bring it up with someone who could help, try these steps;
- Pick somebody you trust
Speaking up about sexual abuse is a brave and difficult thing to do. They could be a grandparent, neighbour, a friend’s parent, teacher, religious leader or doctor.
- Write it down
Talking about abuse can be upsetting but it’s important that you tell them as much as you can about what’s been happening – you could try writing it down in a letter instead.
- Pick a time
When you can talk privately with the person you want to tell.
- Get support
If you have a close friend, you could ask them to be there when you tell somebody.
Understand that it’s NOT your fault
You may feel ashamed or embarrassed. But you shouldn’t be. And you shouldn’t let that stop you talking to someone you trust.
Know that Childline is always here for you.
You can contact us on 8008 and online.
Sexual abuse is one of the hardest things to talk about. It can make you feel afraid, isolated or ashamed. But it’s never your fault and it’s never too late to tell someone. There are people who can help you. If you’re finding it hard to talk about what happened, you can try expressing yourself using a drawing, poem or picture.
Experiencing sexual abuse? We can help.
What You Can Do
Sexual abuse is wrong. It doesn’t matter how many times it happened, how long ago, or whether they were male or female, it’s still important that you get the help and support you need. It’s never too late to tell somebody. Childline Gibraltar even offer a service for adults who were abused in childhood.
If it’s happening to you, we can help. Call us on 8008, or chat online to one of our volunteers between 5-9pm. If you call us you could say “somebody is making me do something which I don’t like.” You don’t need to say who it is. The volunteer will want to understand what’s been happening for you and they might ask some questions. But it’s okay to say you don’t want to answer any questions you’re not comfortable with.
Sexuality and sexual orientation is about who you are physically and emotionally attracted to. Everyone has a sexual orientation – lesbian, straight, bisexual, gay or one of many other types. And this might change over time.
A Bit About Sexuality
Some people know when they’re very young who they fancy. For other people, it’s not so simple. And it can take a while to work out.
People whose sexuality is something other than straight are often called LGB (short for lesbian, gay or bisexual) or LGBT – the ‘T’ stands for transgender (a gender identity rather than an orientation). But there are many more different kinds of sexuality.
It might take some time to work out what your sexual orientation is. Remember there’s no such thing as normal. And you don’t have to feel pressured or rushed to give yourself a label.
If you ever want to talk about your feelings, don’t forget you can always talk to us.
Things to remember about your sexuality:
- only you can decide what your sexuality is
- it takes different people different amounts of time to understand their sexuality
- ‘coming out’ can be a tough experience but it can often get easier as you start to tell more people
- there are lots of different types of sexuality
- someone’s sexuality may change over time – this is OK.
Questioning Your Sexuality
It’s completely normal to need time to work out who you are. And it’s okay not to be sure.
Liking a film, book or music video about same-sex relationships doesn’t necessarily mean you must be a certain sexual orientation. It’s possible to find a lot of different types of people sexually attractive. Only 1 person can decide who you fancy – and that’s you.
Being gay, bisexual or any other sexuality doesn’t mean you have to do sexual acts a certain way. Or do anything people do in films, TV shows or pornography. And no one should pressure you into acting a certain way, having a relationship, having unsafe sex or doing anything you don’t want to do.
Telling someone else you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or another sexuality (LGB+) is often called ‘coming out’. And people who haven’t come out are sometimes described as being ‘in the closet’ or not ‘openly’ LGB+.
Life in the closet can be very isolating. Keeping such a big secret can be a lot of pressure. Coming out can be harder if people around you have negative views on being LGB+ or use it as an excuse to be unkind or discriminatory.
The first step to coming out is being able to tell yourself that you’re lesbian, gay or bisexual. You might prefer a different word to describe yourself, such as pansexual or even asexual. You might also choose to identify as ‘questioning’ while you work things out.
Having LGB Parents
Some young people live with lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) parents. Sometimes people like this may have to answer questions from friends who are curious or ignorant about different kinds of families.
Questions might include “Why do you have two mums?” or “Why do you have two dads?”. Other people may ask “How can you have a family without a mum (or dad)?”. Young people with a transgender parent may also face these kinds of questions.
Some people might think that because your mum or dad is in a same-sex relationship, you’ll also be LGB. This simply isn’t true and it could be homophobic. Like everyone else, you could grow up to be any sexual orientation.
Many LGB people around the world celebrate who they are through pride festivals, youth groups and campaigns to change homophobic laws around the world. These things happen to:
- help stop homophobia
- educate people about LGB issues
- stand up for the rights of LGB people
- show the world that LGB people are everywhere.
When LGB people get together to do these things as a community, this is often called the ‘pride movement’. Transgender people often also are part of the pride movement – LGB trans people may face homophobia as well as transphobia.
There might be a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in your area. These groups can be a great way to get support, meet similar people and get involved in making your own community a better place.
Did You Know?
The rainbow flag is the symbol for LGB pride. The different colours of the rainbow represent diversity among LGB people. You might see the flag at events like gay pride, where lots of gay and straight people celebrate LGB people
Homophobia And Prejudice
Things have improved for LGB people over time – society treats people with different sexualities better than in the past. But some people’s views about sexual orientation are based on ignorance. If you’re an LGB person, you may have to deal with these attitudes. But it’s getting better all the time.
However, if you’ve experienced bullying or harassment because of your sexuality, you can always get support by talking to us.
Types Of Prejudice
- Homophobia in sport
12 Types Of Sexual Orientation
There are lots of different types of sexuality – we’ve listed 12 below. This doesn’t include every type of sexuality – there are lots of other types too. Some of them are quite similar. But feeling comfortable with your own sexuality – and any label you put on it – is what matters.
are emotionally and physically attracted to people of the same sex. Gay is often used to describe boys fancying boys, although girls who fancy girls can also describe themselves as gay.
is another word to describe girls who are emotionally and physically attracted to other girls.
are emotionally and physically attracted to people of the opposite sex. An example would be girls fancying boys. And boys fancying girls.
Bisexual (or ‘bi’) people
are emotionally and physically attracted to both sexes.
don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone. Although they can still enjoy close, romantic, intimate and emotional relationships.
see themselves as either heterosexual or homosexual, but may also sometimes be curious about the gender they’re not normally attracted to.
are unsure about their sexual orientation. Often, they’re still working out whether they might be LGB, straight or something else.
think of themselves as straight but may also sometimes be attracted to people from the same sex. For example, a heteroflexible boy would mostly be attracted to girls but may occasionally be drawn to other boys when the situation feels right.
think of themselves as gay but may sometimes be attracted to someone of the opposite sex, if it feels right. For example, a homoflexible girl may have come out as a lesbian but might sometimes find boys attractive too.
don’t have any sexual attraction unless they have a strong emotional connection with someone first. This often isn’t a choice.
can be attracted to people of any gender or sexual orientation. This includes transgender people or people who feel they’re neither male nor female (sometimes called ‘genderqueer’ or non-binary people).
Crossed orientation (or mixed orientation) people
experience a romantic or emotional attraction that is different from their sexual attraction. For example, someone may feel emotionally attracted to girls but sexually attracted to boys.
Self-harm means hurting yourself or damaging your health on purpose. There are lots of ways to cope with feeling the need to self-harm.
Trigger warning: This page contains information about self-harm which may bring up difficult feelings.
Why People Self-harm
There are lots of reasons why people self-harm. It could be because of feelings or thoughts that are difficult to deal with.
Some people self-harm because it feels like a method for releasing tension. It’s a physical pain you can deal with, rather than a feeling or emotion that can be hard to cope with.
Self-harm can also be used as a way of punishing yourself for something you feel bad about.
Sometimes people self-harm because they feel alone, angry or not good enough. Self-harm can be really personal and complicated, so it’s okay if you don’t know the reasons behind self-harm.
Some young people start self-harming after a stressful event, like being bullied or abused. It could also be a reaction to something like pressure to do well at school. It’s not always a really big thing that leads to self-harm. You might not even be sure why it started.
Whatever’s going on, Childline’s always here for you. Check out our techniques for coping with self-harm or talk to a Childline helpline volunteer if you need help right away.
Things to remember:
- there are lots of different reasons why someone might self-harm
- self-harm doesn’t define you – there are lots of things that make you who you are
- it’s better to talk to someone and get help, rather than keep it all inside
- you can talk to one of our volunteers any time
- there are other ways to cope – and different things work for different people.
Is Self-harm The Same As Being Suicidal?
Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves on purpose. It can be a way of dealing with difficult or painful feelings. If someone self-harms, it doesn’t always mean they’re suicidal.
Some types of self-harm can be very dangerous. It could put someone’s life at risk, even if they’re not suicidal. If you or a friend have self-harmed and you think it could be dangerous, get help straight away by calling 199.
There are a few myths about the type of person who self-harms. But lots of different types of people struggle with self-harm. Boys and girls. Young and old. People from different backgrounds and with different tastes in music. Lots of people are affected by self-harm. The important thing to remember is you’re not alone and you can get help.
Need someone to talk to?
We’re here for you and you can talk about anything.
Call us free on 8008
Ways People Self-harm
There are lots of different ways someone could self-harm, including:
- cutting or scratching
- causing bruises
- banging their head against a wall
- punching a wall
- pulling out their hair
- falling over on purpose
- breaking a bone on purpose.
It’s really important that you get medical attention for any injury that’s worrying you.
Don’t rely on the internet to get medical information. You can get medical advice from a school nurse, teacher, GP, parent or carer. It’s always better to go to your doctor at the Primary Care Centre or the Accident and Emergency department of St Bernard’s hospital if you need help urgently. If your life is in danger call 199 straight away.
It’s also important to look after your wounds or cuts if you’ve hurt yourself.
How Do I Tell Someone I Self-harm?
Lots of young people have said that telling someone about their self-harm was one of the best ways of coping. Talking is important because it means you don’t have to deal with everything on your own. But it’s not always easy. It’s often really hard to know why you’re self-harming. Explaining it to someone else can feel even harder. So how can you tell someone about it?
Is there someone in your life you feel comfortable with? If you feel you can trust them, you could open up to them. It could be a friend, a teacher, an adult you trust, a nurse or a Childline volunteer.
Think about what you want from a conversation. Write down what you want to say before you talk to the person. This can help make sure you don’t forget.
Do you just want someone else to know how you’re feeling? Or are you hoping they’ll give you some practical support and ideas to get better? It’s okay to tell them what you’re hoping to get from the conversation.
If you’re still not sure how to talk to someone about self-harm, you can prepare with a Childline volunteer.
Childhood and teenage years can sometimes be a pressured and emotional time when you are changing rapidly and have to cope with many different situations and new challenges like exams and school pressures, family issues, relationships and other stresses of growing up.
Young people can experience a range of emotional difficulties during this period including mood swings, sadness and anger. Sometimes these difficulties can develop in to more severe and prolonged mental health problems with a greater impact on your day to day functioning. These can include issues like low mood or depression, anxiety and phobias, self-harm, eating disorders and psychosis.
It can be difficult to talk to parents or friends about your feelings, and sometimes you instead express your distress through being irritable or moody, isolating yourself, getting in trouble at school or home, or through unexplained physical symptoms.
Occasionally, your emotions may be so extreme or upsetting that you need urgent help. If you’re self-harming, running away, or thinking that you no longer want to go on living then you may need immediate support. In this instance, you can make an urgent appointment with your GP or go to A&E, in order to access professional help.
Top 5 Tips to keep mentally well
- Exercise – Play your favourite sport or go for a walk
- Do something creative – Take up a new hobby, paint, sculpt, listen to music
- Switch off all electronic devices and try meditation or yoga
- Meet up with friends / family and surround yourself with good positive people
- Get help when you need it – talk to a friend, family member or Childline on 8008 – We are open every day and calls are confidential
There are a wide range of mental health issues common in young people and these include….
- Bipolar disorder
- Coping with stress
- Drugs and alcohol
- Suicidal thoughts
- Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Worries about weight and eating problems
- Worries and anxieties
For more information, log onto:
Or contact Childline Gibraltar on Freephone 8008 or via their website www.childline.gi where you can chat live and in confidence with one of our trained volunteers.
Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, of any age, of any background, at any time. Like with physical illnesses, people don’t choose to have a mental health problem and they need the appropriate care to get better. In 2015-16, around 19 young people contacted Childline Gibraltar experiencing suicidal thoughts. It can be difficult to know if a child is suffering as they often keep it to themselves.
Whilst thinking about suicide is relatively common, very few young people will actually attempt to take their own lives. However even having suicidal thoughts clearly shows someone is unhappy and needs help and support. It can be difficult to understand what causes suicidal feelings but they’re often triggered by upsetting experiences such as:
- living with mental illness
- experiencing abuse
- being bullied
- bereavement after losing a loved one
- being forced to marry
- having very low self-worth
The effect on others
If your child is having suicidal thoughts, it’s bound to have a big effect on you and the whole family. Other children may also pick up that something’s wrong, so make sure that you give them all the support they need. Discovering your child is feeling suicidal can feel quite overwhelming. So make sure that you also get all the support you need from friends and family and maybe professional counsellors.
How to support a child
Your first step should be visiting the family doctor who can help in a few different ways. They can listen – if your child’s willing to talk to them.They could also refer your child for specialist help if they need it. This could be a therapist who will work with your child to discuss their thoughts and feelings and how this is affecting their behaviour.
Speak to the person in charge of child protection for the school or a teacher your child is particularly close to. Teachers are becoming increasingly aware of child mental illness. The school will almost certainly have experience of helping pupils and their families and should be able to provide a named member of staff who your child can go to if they’re struggling with low mood or wanting to harm themselves. This might be a counsellor, a mentor or a nurse, for example. Your child is at school for a large part of the day so having staff aware of the concerns and keeping an eye on them during this time can be reassuring.
Childline has trained volunteers who can help your child to talk about the emotions they may be feeling. It’s a safe space for children to think about ways to improve their situation. They often find it easier to open up to someone they don’t know. Childline talks to under 18’s online or over the telephone on 8008 between 5-9pm every evening. Calls are free and do not show up on itemised phone bills. Your child can also reach us via email on email@example.com.
What is Self Harm?
- Self harm is a complex subject encompassing many different forms of behaviour
- It is a means of coping with intense emotional distress or pain by the infliction of injury to one’s own body
- It can affect anybody at any time but studies have shown that it is more prevalent among young people.
- 1 in 12 teenagers or 8% self-harm (NICE 2011)
- Average age of onset is 12 years
- Self-harm was the main mental health reason service users contacted Childline Gibraltar in 2015-16, with 65 contacts on this topic
Types of Self Harm
- Self-poisoning (Harm is imminent, intent unclear)
Overdosing on prescribed or non-prescribed drugs
Swallowing toxic substances
- Self-injury (Harm is immediate and imminent, intent clear)
Externally: Cutting, Burning, Scalding, Skin-picking, Hair-pulling, Self-hitting, Self-biting
Internally: Inserting objects into vagina or anus (non-sexual intent)
- Self-harm (Harmful long-term, intent unclear)
Smoking, Alcohol Misuse, Drug Misuse, Food Misuse, Promiscuity, Excessive risk taking, Overworking, Gambling
The majority of self harm contacts received by Childline Gibraltar concern self-injury. Generally, there are five main reasons why young people injure themselves:
- To counteract – suicidal feelings
- To calm – relieve overwhelming emotional turmoil
- To castigate – self-punish
- To control – anger and rage, and episodes of dissociation (e.g. feeling disconnected)
- To communicate – what cannot be expressed in words
Clinical guidance from NICE (2011) states that the nature and meaning of self harm varies greatly from person to person. In addition, the reason a person harms him or herself may be different on each occasion, and should not be presumed to be the same.
Life experiences which may underlie Self Harm
- People who injure themselves have often suffered (and sometimes continue to endure) extremely traumatic or stressful life experiences and circumstances
- As a result of these experiences people may suffer a range of painful feelings. These can build up and feel unbearable.
- Self-harm is a way of coping and dealing with these feelings.
Causes of Self Harm
It is rarely one single event or experience that causes a young person to self-harm, but a multi-faceted combination. Research has shown that the experiences most closely linked to self-harm in young people are:
- mental health issues (including hopelessness and depression)
- family issues (such as parental criminality and/or family poverty)
- disrupted upbringing (being in local authority care, parental marital problems, separation or divorce)
- being abused
- continuing family relationship problems
What internal process leads people to Self Harm?
- Relieving unbearable feelings such as sadness, grief, despair or anger. It may be a way of expressing or externalising these feelings, or of distracting oneself from them.
- Self-punishment because of self-hatred and feelings of shame, guilt and ‘dirtiness’. It may help a person feel they have atoned for or cleansed the ‘badness’ they see in themselves.
- Dealing with anxiety and feelings of fear, tension or panic. Self-harm may have a calming or releasing effect for built-up anxiety.
- Feeling in control rather than helpless or powerless. It may help the person feel they have control over at least something in their own life, i.e. over what happens to their own body.
- Communication of feelings, experiences or problems. It may be an attempt to show to oneself or others some of the agony the person has been through.
- A chance for some caring when feeling needy and comfortless. It may be a way to permit some caring by oneself or someone else. The person may not have access to this normally or may not feel entitled to it.
- Feeling real in moments of numbness, depression or feeling ‘cut-off’. Self-harm may provide a jolt which helps someone feel more alive or in touch.
- Stopping flashbacks of past traumatic events. For some people it may sometimes be a way of bringing them back to the here and now
Not knowing how to broach the subject is often what prevents concerned individuals from helping. Yet concern for their well-being is often what young people who self-harm need most.
What to look out for:
- Unexplained burns, cuts, scars, or other clusters of similar markings on the skin can be signs of self-injurious behaviour.
- Arms, hands and forearms opposite the dominant hand are common areas for injury. (However, evidence of self-injurious acts can and do appear on any body part.)
- Inappropriate dress for the season (consistently wearing long sleeves or trousers in summer)
- Constant use of wristbands or other coverings
- Unwillingness to participate in events or activities that require less clothing (such as swimming or other sports)
- Frequently wearing bandages
- Unusual or inexplicable paraphernalia (e.g. razor blades or other implements, inappropriate medication)
- Heightened signs of depression or anxiety.
If you are concerned that a young person you know may be self harming it is important to get support. Encourage them to visit their GP and find someone in whom they can confide. Childline Gibraltar has a team of trained volunteers that can offer support every evening from 5pm to 9mo on freephone 8008 or via our “Live Chat” service through the website www.childline.gi. Our trained volunteers can also be reached via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mindfulness techniques are increasingly being used to boost emotional wellbeing. There is an emerging body of research that indicates mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset and to make better decisions. In short, it helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus.
Mindfulness is awareness. It is noticing our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and anything that is around us and happening right now. The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to recognise their thoughts as “just thoughts,” to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognise when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for impulse control. It is not a panacea, and it will not completely get rid of normal child behaviour, but it can help children cope with emotional difficulties.
Here are some suggestions for how you can begin to introduce mindfulness to your children:
- Listen to the bell. An easy way for children to practise mindfulness is to focus on paying attention to what they can hear. You can use a bell, a set of chimes or a phone app that has sounds on it. Tell your children that you will make the sound, and they should listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound (which is usually 30 seconds to a minute).
- Practise with a breathing buddy. For young children, an instruction to simply “pay attention to the breath” can be hard to follow. Ask your child to get a soft toy and then lie down on their back with their toy on their tummy. They focus their attention on the rise and fall of the soft toy as they breathe in and out.
- Make your walks mindful.Next time you are out walking with your children, encourage them to notice things they haven’t seen before. Then designate one minute of the walk where you are completely silent and simply pay attention to all the sounds you can hear — birds, crickets, a car.
- Establish a gratitude practice. Gratitude is a fundamental component of mindfulness, teaching our children to appreciate the abundance in their lives, as opposed to focusing on all that they crave. This could be done over dinner when you each share one thing we are thankful for.
- Check your personal weather report.Encourage children to “summon the weather report that best describes [their] feelings at the moment.” Sunny, rainy, stormy, calm, windy, tsunami? This activity allows children to observe their present state without overly identifying with their emotions. They can’t change the weather outside, and we can’t change our emotions or feelings either, but we can change how we relate to them.
- Make a Mind Jar.A mind jar is a bit like a snow globe – shake it up and watch the storm! But soon, if we sit and breathe and simply watch the disturbance, it settles. As do our minds.
- Practice mindful eating.The exercise of mindfully eating a raisin or a piece of chocolate is a staple of mindfulness education, and is a great activity for children. Ask them to describe thoughts, feelings and sensations whilst they are eating certain foods.
Above all, remember to have fun and keep it simple. You can provide your children with many opportunities to add helpful practices to their toolkit — some of them will work for them and some won’t. But it’s fun to experiment!
Tips and guidance on how to have a meaningful 10 minute conversation with a young person about their mental health
Why it’s important
Childline Gibraltar believes talking about mental health can help you and those around you to be happier and healthier, and would like to encourage school staff members to have a 10 minute conversation with a pupil or student about their mental health. Mental health and emotional issues often develop during adolescence. Social media, academic pressure, bullying, family units breaking down and an increased number of children in the care system have all been suggested as contributing factors to the rise in mental health issues in younger people. Schools have the opportunity to take an active role in guiding a young person towards the appropriate support for recovery. The statistics below (courtesy of Mental Health First Aid England and Childline Gibraltar) underline why it is so crucial for schools to pay attention to mental health.
Last year, around 130 young people contacted Childline Gibraltar about a mental health issue – a significant increase from previous years.
Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches people the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a young person towards the right support. Having a 10 minute chat is the first step on that journey.
We don’t often talk about our mental health so it might seem a little daunting to start a conversation about it but it’s important to remember you don’t have to be an expert. Giving a young person the opportunity to open up and have a conversation about their mental health can play a vital role in reassuring them that help is available and then signposting them to appropriate support.
Here are some ideas about how you can start the conversation:
Creating a safe space
- Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t appear to be in a hurry. 10 minutes may be enough but if you need longer then go ahead.
- Meet outside the classroom in a neutral space such as a quiet room or pastoral room.
- Sit down even if the other person is standing — it will make you seem less intimidating. Make it clear that they are not in trouble.
How to ask the questions
- Keep your body language open and non-confrontational.
- Be empathetic and take them seriously.
- Do not offer glib advice such as “pull yourself together” or “cheer up”.
- Take into account cultural differences in communication styles e.g. how much eye contact is appropriate.
- Keep the chat positive and supportive, exploring the issues and how you may be able to help.
Useful questions to ask
- How are you feeling at the moment?
- How long have you felt like this – is it an ongoing issue?
- Who do you feel you can go to for support?
- Are there any factors outside of the classroom which are contributing to how you are feeling?
- How can I help you?
- What kind of support do you think might help you?
How to listen
- Give the student your full focus and listen without interrupting
- Listen to their words, tone of voice and body language — all will give clues to how they are feeling
- Accept them as they are – Respect the person’s feelings, experiences and values although they may be different from yours. Do not judge or criticise because of your own beliefs and attitudes.
- Don’t make a moral judgement – Be genuine — show that you accept the person and their values by what you say and do.
- Get on their wavelength. Place yourself in the student’s shoes and demonstrate to them that you hear and understand what they are saying and feeling.
What happens next
- Keep the conversation going — follow up and ask them how they are doing. Reassure them that your door is always open, and really mean it.
- Give reassurance that there are lots of sources of support and some of these might be available through the school’s pastoral care team, by visiting their GP or talking to an organisation like Childline.