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Mental health: What’s it all about?

How we feel is always changing: Sometimes we feel excited, sometimes bored, or stressed or calm. What’s going on around us is always changing too: we may be having fun with friends, coping with exams, dealing with an upsetting event or just getting on as normal. Things are always changing. Life is dynamic. We need to be able to regulate our internal states to cope with the demands of what is going on around us. We need to keep in balance. And if things are getting out of balance we need to know what to do to get back in balance. By boosting our mental reserves we are better able to cope with the ups and downs.

Get your MENTAL BOOST...

The downward spiral

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do to get back in balance, when things have started going badly. If you’re feeling very stuck, you may feel there’s only one option open to you – the easiest one, even though it might not help in the long run.

It might look a bit like this: if you’re worried about something, you try to avoid it, but this actually makes the worries feel bigger, rather than helping to reduce them. So, you end up avoiding them more and the worries grow. This is called a downward spiral. The worse you feel about yourself and your situation, the less hopeful you’ll feel about changing it and doing positive things for yourself.

But you can reverse the downward spiral step by step.

It may not change overnight.

You need to take lots of small steps in the right direction.

Just take one step at a time.

Sam's story...

Sam's story

Click on the blue points to get started

Sam was always a little nervous about things

1. Sam was alwa...

His mum and dad use to argue a lot and there had been fights at home. When he was six his dad left. He got to see him at weekends but he never knew if the weekend would be OK or not, his dad could be very moody and at times he would be get really angry which upset Sam. Sam was coping. He enjoyed football, he had good friends, he had a nice teacher and he knew his mum would always be there for him.

When Sam went to secondary school it seemed so big

2. When Sam wen...

Only one of his friends was in his teaching group. He didn’t like lunchtimes. Some of the teachers were nice but there was one who was mean. Sam got more and more anxious. Once he had to talk in front of the class and he felt so anxious he couldn’t stop shaking, he couldn’t think what he wanted to say and people laughed. He was in agony. He became more and more anxious about being in a group of people. He didn’t like going out if there were going to people there he didn’t know so he started to make excuses and not go out. He kept telling himself to be braver but he couldn’t control his anxiety. Sam was eating more than he needed because he was bored and wanted to cheer himself up.

Sam started to avoid going out more and more

3. Sam started ...

His friends stopped calling. Sam’s mum got a new job working shifts. Sam didn’t tell his mum he didn’t like being alone in case she made him go to his dad’s. He started to notice all sorts of strange things going on in his body. His heart beat rapidly. He had headaches. He worried he was ill. He went to the doctor but she said nothing was wrong. Sam began to miss school. He felt so tired and had pains. The only way he could face being with friends was to drink. He tried to pretend everything was OK because he wanted it to be OK.

Sam started to feel ill much of the time

4. Sam started ...

The slightest effort exhausted him. He felt lonely and useless and that no-one understood. The only thing he enjoyed was playing on his play station which he spent longer and longer on. He worried that he was either seriously ill or crazy. He knew he was putting on weight and didn’t like his body. School had told his mum that they would call someone if he didn’t get to school more and she could go to court so she was getting very stressed about it. Sam started to think maybe it would be better for everyone if he just didn’t exist.

What should Sam do?

Acknowledge things are hard
Be kind to yourself
Mental boost
Talk to someone

Acknowledge things are hard

If Sam could admit to himself things are tough it would really help. It’s the first step in turning the downward spiral round. Most importantly, Sam needs to try to work out exactly what his worries are. He might find it helps to do this with another person, but he could write his thoughts down.

Be kind to yourself

When things feel bad we tend to only pick up on the negative, which only makes us feel worse. If Sam can recognise his strengths, it’ll really help him. It’s from building on these positives that he’ll be able to turn the downward spiral around.

Mental boost

Sam will feel better about himself by getting a Mental Boost. Being active; having fun; looking after himself; and particularly enjoying being with other people will really help. The better he feels inside, the more likely he’ll be able to cope. At first it may feel like a huge effort and Sam might not notice the positive effects, but if he sticks with it, it’ll make a difference. He needs to take one step at a time to reverse the downward spiral.

Talk to someone

If Sam talked about his worries, it would really help. Honestly, something magical happens when we find a good listener to talk to. He’ll feel calmer and a whole lot more hopeful. If Sam can’t think of a good listener amongst his family or friends, he could try a teacher, Learning Mentor, GP or ringing ChildLine.

Sam needs to get help