Young people with mental health issues can present in so many different ways and, at times, can appear not to want to engage with any support offered. However, if you stick with them and keep trying, nine times out of ten, the benefits will be huge.
Young people with mental health issues need to be able to trust the adults working with them; they need to feel that your interest in their wellbeing is genuine and not just a job that you get paid to do.
The balancing act between supporting these young people and not getting too absorbed by their struggles is a real tightrope walking exercise. In the majority of cases you will be able to maintain a professional, somewhat detached attitude. However, there will always be some who really get to you…the ones you can’t switch off and forget about when you get home…the ones you think about on your trip into work, pondering what the day will bring and what state they’ll be in.
Young people with mental health issues can be incredibly manipulative and, at times, they can be extremely difficult to deal with. It’s difficult to keep telling yourself that their frustrations are not aimed at you personally when they are shouting and calling you names or when they are completely shut off and appear to be ignoring and blanking you completely.
Mental health is so personal; anxiety, for example, can present itself in many ways. A student with anxiety could be crying and shaking. A student with anxiety could be bouncing off the walls and being disruptive. A student with anxiety could be shut down to the point where you will be lucky if they even communicate with you via notes or incomprehensible grunts.
The hardest part about working with young people suffering from mental health issues is realising that you cannot wave a magic wand and fix them. You can’t even guarantee that a method that worked one day will carry over to the next. The hardest part is remembering that your primary role, while always trying to support and nurture them, is to educate them and equip them for dealing with life after school.
The most important factor when working with young people who are mentally ill is to have a brilliant, supportive team around you. This team of people will be your sounding board; your chance to offload and rant. Believe me; you’ll need it.
The best thing about teaching students with mental health issues is when you feel that, through your support, they have increased in confidence, positivity and maturity; when you feel that they have collected some happy, safe experiences in your care.
Mental health is hard. There are days when you want to scream, shout and give it all up; but those days are outnumbered by the fun days, the happy days, the days when you really feel like you have made a difference. That is why I would never want to do anything different with my life.