There’s no doubt that Year 11 and 12 are stressful years. But, how do you know when it’s more than just ‘normal’ stress? Given it’s Self-Care September, we chatted with Nick Barrington, a Mental Health Nurse and Family Therapist at Latrobe University’s Bouverie centre. Nick trains mental health practitioners who specialise in helping rural and regional young adults.
So how do we know when it’s more than ‘normal’ stress?
Nick told us that adolescence is a common time to begin experiencing mental health challenges. Some of the most common include depression and anxiety, which of course, aren’t helped by the stresses of Year 11 and 12. It’s easy to brush it off as being “just tired” or blame it on school stress.
Nick’s says it’s time to start thinking seriously about asking for help “when that stress is not easing up at any point, when you can’t find little bits of lightness in amongst that”. Like any illness, it’s best to catch it early and ask for help sooner rather than later - “once we’re in holes, it’s really hard to dig ourselves out.”
How do we ask for help?
Asking for help can be intimidating. It means being vulnerable at a time when you’re already shaky. According to Nick, it can be easy to worry about how people will respond, or how they will think of you once you tell them. The key? “Finding a person that you feel comfortable asking for support from”.
“As health workers, we often head towards formal supports, but I think it’s important not to forget our informal supports. Friends and family are great first contact points.” Nick also mentions that sometimes family aren’t the best support contacts, and that’s totally fine.
“It might be a friend, a parent of a friend, a GP, somebody that’s in a more formal position of help…”. Nick explains that sometimes, it can feel more comfortable having someone to talk to who you don’t know personally, and who is in a formal position of helping – like a school counselor.
What if our family isn’t very helpful?
Our families can have lots of separate stresses and sometimes aren’t the most helpful. Most of the time our families truly do want to support us, but they simply don’t know what that looks like.
Nick suggests that even if you don’t feel your family can help you out, it’s best to let them know what you’re going through. This way, at least they are aware. “I’m just letting you know…” can be a helpful starter.
“Be clear about what it is you would like from them”. Do you want them to help you find a mental health professional to speak to? Or do you just want a hug? Spell it out.
How do we support a friend who’s struggling?
It can be rough to see a friend struggling. According to Nick, checking in with them and letting them know you’re there for support if they need is a helpful move. In some cases, being supportive doesn’t have to mean asking them about what they’re going through. It can even just be making time to hang out together and letting them bring their stresses up if they want to.
If your friend does bring it up, try to find a resource you can suggest. “I spoke to Ms Collins and she was super helpful” can be a great way to support your friend.
Nick explains that it’s important to support and not force. “People tend to find it harder to take up supports when they feel forced to do so… the last thing any of us like when we’re stressed is to feel extra pressure on ourselves to do a certain thing or be a certain way”.
What are your favourite self-care practices?
We’ve written a whole post on realistic self-care , but here are Nick’s favourite things.
“I’ve been spending a lot more time in the garden… For me, being outside is incredibly important. Fresh air and actual sunlight are of great value”. Nick also likes to do some sort of physical activity – whether it’s going for a ride or bouncing on the trampoline with his young kids.
Nick added that connecting with his family was also key. “We’ve got out Nintendo set up on our TV, so we come together to race each other at Mario Kart”.
What services are available?
Nick is well aware that accessing formal mental health support can be even more challenging when you live rurally. That’s why he thinks online resources are so valuable. Most of them are free, but you do have to make an account for some. Here’s a list of Nick’s favourites:
Nick also suggests that chatting to your GP is a good start. They can make you a mental health plan and connect you with other professionals. Going to your GP also means you can get financial assistance so seeking help doesn’t break the bank.
So reach out, ask for the help you need, and give support to friends that need it. Resources are there to be used. You’ve got this.