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Month: December 2020

Looking after your mental health during a low key Christmas

Since Covid 19 entered our lives, our way of life has had to change. We can’t see friends and family members face to face and we have just been through a lockdown to stop the virus spreading. As much of the country enters Tier 3 lockdown restrictions, what does this mean for a family Christmas and how will it impact our teens mental health?

Back in November, Professor Catherine Noakes, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said to the Guardian:

“We really have to be careful that we don’t just focus on what is going to happen in six weeks’ time..we will be better off planning.. and thinking of, actually, can we have a more low-key Christmas and new year this year?.”

Professor Gabriel Scally also added that a well ventilated, outdoor Christmas would be the best thing to stop the spread of the virus. The rules for this Christmas are as follows, from 23 December to 27 December we’ll all able be able to form a ‘Christmas bubble’. This bubble allows you to join up to two other households during this period. However, once you’ve decided which two households you want to spend time with you can’t change them. Your bubble remains the same throughout this period. (Age UK)

But what does this mean for our teens whose lives have changed immeasurably and who want be able to see much loved family members of friends?

Many teens want to go out to see friends, socialise, go to parties, but their freedom at what should be the most carefree time of their lives is being curtailed. Many have had to break up early from school to stop the spread of Covid 19.

Mind say on their website, ‘Christmas can be a tricky time, even without the pandemic. The news tends to assume we all want to have this big Christmas with family. We are all different. For some, a small Christmas might be a blessing.”

Christmas can be a time that many people, including teens will struggle with their mental health. They won’t be at school and even if they have been, classmates may have been off due to positive Covid cases. There is an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

Mind list the following reasons people may struggle with their mental health,

-Feel alone or left out because everyone else seems happy when you’re not
-Wish you didn’t have to deal with Christmas because of other events in your life or the pandemic
-Feel frustrated by other people’s views of a ‘perfect’ Christmas, if these feel different to your experiences
-Want to celebrate with someone who’s struggling, but can’t

Yet, there are ways to help make Christmas wonderful- such as making and posting Christmas cards to loved ones, doing relaxing activities like watching Christmas movies or drinking hot chocolate and video calling loved ones if you feel able.

However, the restrictions this Christmas may exacerbate mental health problems, with difficult and stressful experiences making it worse. It may also be harder to access much needed services this time of year.

What can help?

  • Be kind and gentle with yourself- the pandemic and your mental health issues are not your fault, don’t beat yourself up.
  • Talk to a trusted parent, friend, guardian or loved one about how you are feeling and what you need to cope – create a toolbox of coping methods together.
  • Communicate what you need to boost your mental health and get through Christmas this year.
  • If needed, speak to your GP and crisis services and get support or call Samaritans or text the Shout line (numbers below)
  • Plan nice activities such as using your Teen Calm box and things to do so you don’t feel lonely or isolated and make sure you are spending time with others for some of the time.
  • Take time out if you do need alone time, to rest and recuperate and explain this to your family.
  • If your mental health worsens and you feel suicidal or want to harm yourself, please reach out to your GP, psychiatrist, therapist or local CAMHS service crisis team.

If you are struggling this Christmas, call Samaritans on 116 123 or text Shout to 85258

Remember that with the roll out of the vaccine, we hope the pandemic will soon be a distant memory and that Christmas next year will be brighter. We at Teen Calm wish you a happy and healthy one.

Could your teen with anxiety also have autism or SEN? Here’s what you need to know.

Sometimes, when we’re focussed on the anxiety we may find that we’ve overlooked something else. The teenage years are undoubtedly testing times but is there something more at play?

What are special needs?

Each teenager and child will have different physical, social and emotional needs. They may also struggle with mental health conditions such as anxiety. But, as a parent or carer, what do you do if you suspect your child may have a special educational need (potentially including autism, other neurological differences like ADHD or emotional difficulties)? What if the anxiety is created by a wider need?

The charity Family Lives note that ‘’The term ‘Special Educational Needs’ is used to describe learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for children to learn than most children of the same age. Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are likely to need extra or different help from that given to other children their age. This help is known as special educational provision.’’

Children including teens can have different difficulties that can be classified as SEN by an accredited practitioner such as a psychiatrist, educational psychologist, occupational or speech therapist or a SENDCO inclusion leader in the school. Difficulties can include emotional and behavioural, such as low self esteem and lack of confidence, an inability to follow class instructions and ‘acting out’ at school/ aggression. In some cases, there may be anxiety and panic attacks or depression. Or, as we experienced, very few obvious difficulties until mental health issues arose, due to autistic ‘masking’. We’ll explain a bit more about that in a moment.

Children & teens may struggle with the academic side of school, struggling with reading, spelling, maths or grasping abstract concepts. Class activities can be difficult for a variety of reasons, especially if your child has a learning need. Some children also have speech and language or communication needs, and may have delays in this area, finding it hard to communicate with their peers or teacher and relate to other people. Others have a physical disability which makes life trickier for them to be in class or study at the same level. 

However, help is at hand!

In this blog, we will look at what to do if you think your teen has emotional difficulties and what to do if you suspect their level of anxiety could be related to autism.

Firstly it is important to note that in the UK education system, each child has the right to access learning at their own level. They must receive a balanced and wide curriculum, which can be differentiated, from Early Years to the later key stages at age 16-18. Most children with SEN will be educated in a mainstream school (some are home schooled or in specialist schools as it depends on each child). 

If you are concerned about your child/ teen:

1) Speak to the class teacher and school SENDCO to express your concerns

It is vital to have a good dialogue with the class teacher, who sees your child every day. It is important to express concerns about your child’s behaviour or mental health if it comes up and if they are struggling academically or with their peers. The teacher can set up a meeting with the school SEN Coordinator and this may give you greater clarity, especially if your child is falling behind other children. 

They can put into place plans of action, known as Individualised Education Plans (IEPs) to help your child in class. The teacher may recommend that your child needs one to one support from a teaching assistant, who will carry out the action points of the IEP.

If they are really struggling, in consultation with you, the SENCO may apply for an EHCP (formerly known as a statement of needs), where the school receives funding to best support the person, for example by hiring their own teaching assistant or equipment to help in class.

If your teen is under a psychiatrist, it is important to involve them separately to assess what is going on and note their symptoms. 

2)  See their GP and specialist: What if their anxiety is because of autism? How do I realise?

Raisingchildren.net.au  says that ‘Anxiety is a normal part of children’s development, but children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can experience anxiety more intensely and more often than other children.’

They also comment, ‘Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) feel many of the same worries and fears as other children. But when children and teenagers with ASD get worried or anxious, the way they show their anxiety can look a lot like common characteristics of ASD.

If you are concerned your child may be on the autism spectrum, it is best to speak to your GP and get a referral to a specialist.

Symptoms of anxiety (and other conditions) can also be very similar to autism. These include:

  • Insisting on routine
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Tantrums and meltdowns
  • Social withdrawal
  • Obsessions and rituals   
  • Stimming (self stimulation) by rocking, spinning or flapping hands
  • Self harm eg biting, scratching, headbanging

You can get your teen assessed and it is best to rely on the advice of professionals such as GP doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, SENCOs and any therapists involved in your child’s care. It is also important to trust your gut feeling too as a parent.

There are a number of ways to assist with anxiety including exposure therapy, CBT, social stories to prepare for social situations. An occupational therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist can assist with this after an assessment.

Not all teenagers with anxiety will have autism. If your teen is struggling badly with anxiety, they can access medication and counselling through their GP or psychiatrist.

As a parent or carer, it is important to note your teens behaviour patterns and if you have a strong feeling that more support is needed or your teen is distressed and asking for further help , reach out for it. 

Some helpful charities;

YoungMinds
Stem 4
Mind
The Princes Trust
Heads Together

Other useful organisations;

Time to Change
Place 2 Be
SAMH

Teen Calm is a new subscription box for teens struggling with anxiety. Find out more here.

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