Managing Mental Health in the Last Year of School - Hope 103.2

Managing Mental Health in the Last Year of School

Finishing school carries a lot of stress for teenagers. Where they’ve had some depression, anxiety or other mental ill-health, Year 12 can be too much.

By Rachel DohertyMonday 3 Sep 2018ParentingReading Time: 5 minutes

Picture by Andrew Neel

Finishing school carries a lot of stress for teenagers. When they’ve struggled with some depression, anxiety or other mental ill-health, Year 12 can really become be too much.

They’re bombarded with ideas and expectations about what they should do after the year’s end. They feel the pressure to bury themselves in study to get good marks. Then there are the usual stresses of the teen years too: Learning to drive, relationships, balancing study, work and play. It’s no wonder that the mental health of many school leavers can get messed up.

They can fuel each other’s stress, too. It’s like the scene Finding Nemo where all the fish are swimming the same way and then realise the net is coming and turn in a panic. Sometimes it’s the same for our teenagers: they are influenced by the pack.

An Australian survey in 2015 found that one in fourteen young people have anxiety. Another five percent have clear symptoms of depression. So if you’re supporting one of these teens, here are my tips for keeping them going in the last year of school.

How to Help Your School Leavers Finish Well

Student studying

Picture by Tamarcus Brown

1. Keep them focused on the goal. Many school leavers have no idea what they want to do when they leave school, causing them to panic. Get them to set a realistic goal anyway. Have a list of ideas that they think they’d like to pursue, and work out what study or work options would get them there. Then work back to what grades they will need to get for that pathway. It might be a B in most subjects, but a pass in Chemistry. Be willing to look for a detour to get to their end goal, too. Like getting into a science degree and then moving over to something higher.

2. Talk up the importance of keeping their options open. Most young people today will have many careers, so they don’t need to choose something that will last them the next 40 years. In fact, many of the jobs our kids will do are still evolving. Focus more on the skills, talents and interests they have and how these might lead to work later.

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3. Promote balance. Studying too much for a year or two isn’t good for anyone’s health. Get them to think about how they can work towards their goals but enjoy the journey too. There should be time for social activities, sport, a bit of work and all that study, along with time to procrastinate and do nothing.

4. Encourage them to swim against the tide. If everyone else is panicking, we need to encourage our young people to stick to their game plan, and not get too concerned about what everyone else thinks. Remind them that their plan is a good one, it plays to their strengths and it’s going to work for them. If they hit an obstacle, tell them they’re tough enough to work their way around it.

5. Get help early. If you think a young person you care about isn’t coping with the stress, get help early. Most schools have excellent counselling services. These people know all about how stressful Year 12 is. They will also be familiar with the ebb and flow of the year. They can give teenagers career advice to make sure they’re setting realistic goals. If that doesn’t work, go higher and see your family doctor or seek a referral to a psychiatrist. If teenagers are showing signs of depression for more than a few weeks and all the support you can muster at home and school isn’t working, don’t let it fester.

“Keep an eye on their social media use as much as you can, and make sure it’s a friend, not a foe.”

6. Watch out for the impact of social media. It’s a great tool for young people to share ideas, encourage one another and collaborate, but social media can also be a secret place that fuels unhealthy thinking. So keep an eye on their social media use as much as you can, and make sure that it’s being a friend, not a foe.

7. Relish the breaks. School holidays are a good chance for kids to take a break from their every day routine, get out in the sunshine and wear themselves out physically. Don’t let them study right through the holidays or hide away on the computer.

8. Keep them active and well fed. During stressful periods, exercise and healthy food are simple ways to keep life in perspective and keep our body working well. Don’t underestimate the value of an afternoon walk, shooting some hoops or the family dinner.

9. Make sleep a priority. Teenagers who are feeling pressured at school can sacrifice sleep to focus on study. Help your teens get into good sleep habits so they don’t make the problem worse by being too tired in class.

10. Get help yourself. Supporting a young person who is anxious, depressed, self-harming or suicidal is draining. Make sure you get some help too. Tap into some counselling and find a supportive friend to have coffee with. If you work with young people, attend professional supervision on a regular basis.

Some other resources on this topic worth checking out are:

But the best advice comes from Finding Nemo again: It’s that all school leavers need a good buddy for the journey – someone they can celebrate with when it’s all over. Because let’s face it, there’s a lot of life after school.

Article supplied with thanks to Rachel Doherty from Tweens 2 Teen. Rachel helps those living and working with young people, through supervision, coaching, speaking and consulting.