The Purple House Blog

Language & Mental Health


 

How Teenspeak Can Shut Down Conversations about Mental Health

 By Alice Gamble 

 

As an 18 year old, two of the most common phrases I hear in response to expressing something about your mental health are “same” and “mood”.

For example:

 

Teen A: “I feel so stressed”;

Teen B: “Same.”

or

Teen A: “I feel rubbish”;

Teen B: “Mood.”

 

These two words have become quick and simple ways for young people to respond to their friends’ thoughts and feelings - and, to many, these words may seem like innocent slang used by 'Generation Z', much like “lol”.

Unfortunately, from my own experience as an anxiety sufferer, I know that these two short words can have a negative impact on your mental health. They are classic conversation stoppers; it can be pretty hard to expand on something when a few sentences worth of conversation have been summed up in one word!

 

When you’re struggling with your mental health it’s not just normal stress

 

In a fast-paced, modern world we have all experienced periods of uncertainty or worry caused by external factors such as work or relationships. However, these periods usually come to an end or arise as the external factor comes and goes; this is known as stress.

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Mental health problems (in my case Anxiety) are a bit different. Mental health problems can persist whether or not the cause is clear; a clear cause could be a traumatic life event, but mental health difficulties can also be caused by an accumulation of smaller less noticeable events.

 

The best analogy I have found for what happens with unclear causes is a bucket of water :

Stress Bucket - The Purple House Clinic

For an anxiety sufferer, the water is your stress levels - and as stressors are added to the bucket, it will fill up until it overflows; the peak of anxiety coming out of the blue with no apparent trigger. The tap at the bottom represents the effect verbal interactions can have on stress levels.

This is where “stress” is now something more. Whilst stress and anxiety are similar, the words are mixed around so much that I feel they have lost their distinction. And I fell into this trap too.

 

Prior to my GCSE exams at school, saying to my friends, “oh I’m so stressed” - when in reality (unbeknownst to me at the time), it was more than just normal stress. I was suffering from a longer term problem with anxiety.

 

Most of my friends could distinguish that GCSEs were not the end of the world; that nerves are normal. But they could walk into the exam hall and out (maybe with some tears) and carry on.

 

I, on the other hand, saw my GCSEs as the deciding factor of my future (partly due to biased thinking patterns where I negatively predict the future, or see things in black and white terms).

 

I had panic attacks - sometimes even before I had even entered the exam room. I would often sit in the exam in a state of distress, my mind flicking back and forth between positive and negative thinking -  both during and after the exam.

 

Then when the exams were finished, something else would trigger all these feelings again - results day, sixth form and so on. The feelings remained even as the factors came and went, and sometimes I just had the feelings even when I could not work out why.

 

We need to carefully listen, and carefully respond, to our friends

 

Much like the lack of distinction between stress and anxiety, ”same” and “mood” easily diminish someone’s mental health problems i.e. if we do not carefully listen to the conversation, notice our friends behaviour or mood.

 

How easily these words can halt a conversation in which someone may have been crying for help, or finally having the courage to speak to their friends about what is going on:

Mood - The Purple House Clinic Blog

Without realising, and unintentionally, (B) could have halted the conversation where (A) was going to ask for help or share their problems.

 

And it is not to say that (B) cannot be feeling the same as (A). In fact when mental health problems are discussed openly it is easy to find that many are suffering similarly, and so new lines of support are potentially opened.

 

But the words used (if we’re not careful) can diminish someone else’s feelings or halt the conversation. There are better ways to acknowledge if you are feeling the same, perhaps saying:

 

“I think I understand what you’re going through...”

or

“I've been feeling the same lately as well…”,

 

These more open-ended sentences allow the conversation to continue, and show support and willingness to connect.

 

 

My friends helped me to talk about my mental health

 

When I first realised I had anxiety, I was at a loss of words to describe my feelings around exams; “stressed” worked well and so I continue to use this even though I know it’s something more. But because I have had open conversations with my friends about my ongoing difficulties with anxiety, they know that closer to exams “stressed” for me is not just stressed”.

 

These conversations only happened because they could continue; my friends did not say “same” after my first sentence, they listened and at the end of the conversation, a few actually said ‘I think I know how you are feeling’. 

 

It turned out they were actually feeling the “same” but, by not just saying that one isolated word, I felt my struggles were understood and mutual support was established.

 

What a lot of us need when we’re struggling is simply this - for the conversation not to be halted.

 

Keep open, keep talking!

 

 


Other relevant Purple House Blogs: Our Family In Lockdown (Guest Blog), The Secret to Harmonious Relationships During Lockdown

COVID-19 & Your Kids: Adapting to the New Normal

COVID-19 & Your Kids:

Adapting to the New Normal

 

 

What does it mean to be a child? What are their roles in life and how do they feel fulfilled and gain a sense of purpose? What exactly are the things that children need to do in their everyday lives? These are the central questions for an Occupational Therapist when looking at how best to help improve lives of the children they work with. When faced with challenges of any sort, be it accident, injury, hospitalisation, loss of confidence or mental trauma, inevitably there will be changes in a child’s ability to engage in activities and changes to their everyday roles. There is great value, therefore, in considering the impact of Covid-19 from an Occupational Therapy perspective - to look at what these changes mean for our children and how their new circumstances will affect their roles in life and their engagement in activities and relationships.

 

A New Normal

COVID-19 has introduced not least a new virus; but a new way of life for all of us. Children are spending their days at home in a way that is alien compared with their usual routine, with loss of school, loss of extra-curricular activities, loss of trips out (even to the shops!), and loss of ‘in person’ contact with friends and extended family members. Parents will be concerned about the effect this may have on their children’s development, their physical and mental health as well as their family’s wellbeing. An additional and lingering challenge of this virus is the uncertainty around when life will get back to ‘normal’, or if we will ever go back to that normal. Are we looking at a new normal? It seems 'a given' now that many logistical aspects of our lives will be altered more permanently, and we have no choice but to adapt.

 

Supporting Our Children

Children have many roles in their life which give them meaning and a sense of purpose - they are sons/daughters, cousins, grandchildren, playmates, pupils, learners, helpers, growers, friends, siblings, ballerinas, runners, climbers, artists etc. etc. What we must remember with children is they are internally programmed to fulfill these roles and to develop and grow, not only physically, but emotionally too. The challenges of life rarely thwart these drives and, if we can support our children during this period with clear and containing messages and boundaries, we will allow that innate drive to continue. During covid-19, we can help our children to find new ways to fulfill these roles and to, more generally, engage in activities of everyday life that give them purpose.

 

Top Tips:

Here are some top tips to help address the occupational challenges that covid-19 present for children:

  • See the current occupations of your child as valid and see how they can still perform their previous roles (e.g. as son/daughter, playmate, learner, ballerina) through different means and with differing emphasis, and enable them to use both their own existing skills and assistance from you to adapt to a challenging situation.
  • With home schooling – try to be less of a teacher, and more of a learning supporter. As long as they are fulfilling their role as ‘learner’ in some way, this is all that matters. Remember that there are multiple ways to learn (not just the ones taught in schools) and that real life learning is valid too. This time is an opportunity to look at learning through doing (which is harder to do in a school environment), which may well work to some children’s strengths. Use activities like cooking, gardening, cleaning and daily chores as opportunities to learn and enjoy a new role. Learning through doing is central to Occupational Therapy philosophy and allows the full range of learning styles to be utilised, such as kinaesthetic learners (children who learn best when moving or doing). Children will be able to get back to their normal learning soon enough, and you may well have a new wealth of information to share with their teachers about what you noticed about your child during this time. See this time as a way of doing things differently, and not necessarily to your child’s detriment. If parents promote the positives of this phase, children will learn to remain positive and be open to learning and adapting.
  • The loss of school is an obvious change in role, but try to look out for other losses - perhaps your child has a very invested role as a sportsperson or in a particular hobby? Or perhaps they are very invested in a role as a grandson or as a step-sibling? Try to think of ways they can fulfill these roles in different ways and connect them with the activities, hobbies or relationships that form a firm part of their identity.
  • Try to maintain clear daily routines such as mealtimes, shower times, dressing, play, and home-schooling timetable. This will help give them purpose and drive.
  • Keep moving; don’t stay still for too long. Avoid long periods in separate rooms, exercise together and eat healthily; use this as a time to try new recipes and share ideas about what the child would like their week to look like. This will help your child retain a sense of purpose and control over their daily life.
  • Sleep routines are always vital but especially during this time. Set alarms to get up, avoid daytime naps and late nights. Everyone will benefit from this in the family.
  • Encourage your children to keep in contact with their friends and wider family through socially distanced versions - Skype, phone calls, FaceTime etc., and talk about other family members, so that they know they are still around and can look forward to resuming contact when possible to do so.
  • Filling the day can understandably be hard with children, who notoriously become bored very easily. On boredom, use this period to allow your children to experience boredom, it can lead to creativity and is an essential part of child development. We are used to busy timetables but it’s also vital that we and our children have unstructured times where we can reflect and maybe learn to be content with little to do (children with special needs may find this trickier but it is still worth a try). In my experience your child may struggle ‘in the moment' but in the longer term it may be useful for emotional growth.
  • Talk to your children about what is happening but be careful not to overwhelm them with too much information (for example, constant news updates). They need to know the social distancing rules, that we have a virus in the country that can make us poorly and, in some cases, could cause us to go to hospital where most people will be treated successfully, but some sadly will not. Remember they are not used to seeing as much news, so limit this as if routines were as before, e.g. evening news before dinner if that was your previous norm. It is the adults’ role to manage the anxieties that COVID-19 has given our families.
  • Finally, play and fun! Play is the natural occupation of the child, it’s at the very root of their educational journey and will enhance their enjoyment of learning and growing all round.

 

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) provide online advice for parents who are socially distancing and isolating with children. www.rcot.co.uk/staying-well-when-social-distancing

 


Our Family In Lockdown (Guest Blog)

Our Family in Lockdown

 

When I had my firstborn, I was besieged with advice about everything - from feeding, sleeping and nappies - to regaining my pre-pregnancy figure. Some of this was solicited from health visitors, some unsolicited from an ‘old dear’ in the Boots queue. I learned to filter out the unhelpful suggestions.

The first few weeks of lockdown felt like that again, with the surge of ‘productivity porn’ on social media; with seemingly every parent in the UK proudly championing their home education projects. Six-foot towers made from paper clips and corrugated cardboard! I suspected their civil engineer dads were rustling these things up before breakfast...it was like turbo-charged Blue Peter!

As luck would have it, an unexpected pearl of wisdom was shared by my younger daughter’s headteacher - saving my sanity:

 

Emotions > Education (the Purple House Clinic)

 

I could relax. I didn’t need to write a Booker Prize-winning novel, and my girls didn’t need to learn Russian whilst riding a unicycle backwards in the rain during lockdown.

I am a single mum with two daughters - aged 7 and 12. I am menopausal; my eldest has ASD and my youngest wears an eye patch to correct her “lazy” eye. We all have something to contend with in life. I am lucky enough to work from home. There are many families worse off than us. 

The biggest challenge in the first few weeks of lockdown was the girls trying to come to terms with not being able to see their dad. We are separated but he usually sees them several times a week. He has asthma though - and once he was furloughed, he decided to stay in isolation. However, he phoned daily -  always with a trembling voice of fatherly, unconditional love.

War with coronavirus

When the Queen did her speech, during the time Boris Johnson was in ICU, she mentioned wartime evacuees. I think my girls did feel like evacuees, marooned from their dad. 

And it does feel like we have gone to war with coronavirus. The daily cabinet briefings bring the daily death count, healthcare workers are our soldiers on the front line, and the public are all doing their bit for the war effort: manufacturing visors, sewing PPE, fundraising for the NHS and clapping with gratitude every Thursday at 8pm.

We muddled through the first few weeks, bleary-eyed, expecting to wake up from this dystopian sci-fi at any moment. We all fixated on something, like a life jacket. My eldest binge-watched Roswell - a 90’s sci-fi series. My youngest built LEGO all the time, and I painted the downstairs rooms.

In hindsight, we were following Abraham Maslow’s 'Hierarchy of Needs' (1943) - a five-tiered model of human requirements: After the basics (food, water, sleep), comes safety. These distractions were not simply borne out of boredom, but were subconsciously chosen to reassure ourselves that we were safe; if we were able to do normal activities then we’d be fine. Right?

 

Maslow Diagram

verywellmind.com/ Joshua Seong

 

Once the nation stopped panic-buying food, and we could buy pasta again (the only food my youngest will currently eat!), we were able to start scaling Maslow’s pyramid. We now needed to cocoon ourselves - to take refuge from the fear of COVID-19. We read child-friendly explanations of coronavirus - the ones where the pathogen is reduced to a snivelling, pathetic virus and the healthcare workers are championed as superheroes. In addition, there were bedtime stories lovingly recorded by my youngest daughter’s schoolteacher and put onto the school’s website. These allowed my youngest to maintain some semblance of stability. The rainbow on our window, along with millions around the country, made us feel part of a wider, collective movement - safety and power in numbers. 

We gradually shuffled into the third tier. This is where apps like Zoom have allowed us to chat with family and friends. We've set dates and enjoyed a cup of tea together. The satellite time-delay have become one of the familiar quirky dysfunctions. Interestingly, my girls prefer speaking to people on the phone, rather than Zoom. A phone voice is more measured, genuine, the gaps in conversation more natural than the theatrical spectacular of video apps. Beyond immediate family, our neighbours have become like an extended family - perennial flowers, always there, growing alongside our house, but somehow blooming into magnificent sunflowers overnight. Any essential food items were being added to their home delivery lists and homemade cakes were being dropped off by neighbours and friends out on their daily walks. 

We hadn't felt as thought we could dive straight into home education without first making sure that we felt safe and loved - but we were certainly now feeling a gush of love.

Mediterranean lifestyle

We were now finding our own rhythm (not the one that’s been imposed on us for so long). We seemed to naturally adopt a more Mediterranean lifestyle - going to bed a bit later, waking later and eating later. Our circadian rhythms were changing; everything shifted. It worked for our family. Even the cats started following our new way of living. As a Mediterranean matriarch, the only things I insisted on were: daily exercise (courtesy of Joe Wicks!), lunch outside to maximise our vitamin D intake, and my youngest had to wear her eye patch for three hours every day (by order of paediatric ophthalmologists!).

We did have a few WiFi squabbles early on but I soon realised that electronic devices were background accompaniments in our house. My youngest had ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ on a continuous loop - but only as a background noise - not the centrepiece of entertainment. Similarly, my eldest would have her Amazon playlist on whilst following more creative pursuits. 

Something beautiful

This is my family secret ingredient, passed down through the generations: I let my kids get bored, really painstakingly bored. Once they realised I was not going to relieve their boredom every five minutes, something beautiful happened: My eldest started writing. Not typing - actually writing in her notebook. It started as single words when she was younger and now, aged 12, she is writing her own YA (young adult) novel. She will sit for hours, scribbling in her journal. Writing certainly seems to be is what she was put on this planet to do. She is happily in the zone - tier 5 of Maslow’s hierarchy.

 

Boredom leads to Creativity (The Purple House Clinic)

 

My youngest likes inventing. She will spontaneously build a slide out of cardboard for her teddies or a soft play centre for her LEGO pieces. She often wears her white lab coat whilst inventing. If she’s not inventing, she is scooting. She has placed towels and blankets across our semi-open-plan ground floor and rides a scooter circuit with a customised delivery box on the front, held together with sellotape. We have our own Deliveroo service! 

Both girls have found what makes them happy. And of course, this is mutually beneficial when I need to work from home. 

We've had our challenges. My eldest hasn’t left the house since lockdown, except for her daily lunch in the garden. She has refused to go for a walk. Perhaps, when all this is over, she will reflect on this and be able to tell me what was going on. It seems, for now, she just needs the safety of the cocoon. 

At dusk, both girls seem happier to sit in the garden. Here, we have giggled at our chalk drawings on the slab concrete and marvelled at the star constellations whilst lying on sleeping bags on our rather old and rusty trampoline.

An unexpected blessing

Lockdown has been an unexpected blessing for me. I went back to work when my eldest was nine months old and my youngest was three. I always felt regret that I hadn’t had more time at home when my children were younger. Although my eldest is now 12, she is secretly still a big toddler inside. She now lives in the same, oversized t-shirt - much like the pink dress she lived in when she was three (I will have to prise it off her to wash it at some point soon). Her reluctance to stop reading at night and go to bed reminds me of when she was little and wanted to stay up and dance all night. 

What I’ve learned is that you need to find your own family rhythm; build your cocoon and marvel at what your kids do when they get bored.

Anon.

 


Some handy lockdown tips & ideas:

  1. CBeebies have most of their bedtime stories on YouTube. Great for helping little ones sleep; 
  2. Joe Wicks daily workout at 9am on YouTube (hilarious for children watching their parents do a workout!);
  3. Skyview  - a great free app for identifying stars and planets;
  4. Family Lockdown Activities, Tips and Ideas Facebook page: dip in and out, lots of daily, creative inspiration for little ones;
  5. Centre of Excellence, have reduced prices for  their online courses during April - perfect for mums and dads wanting to learn something new. The Open University run lots of free courses too; 
  6. Handy Coronovirus explanation stories for kids:
    https://axelscheffler.com/books-for-older-children/coronavirus
    Or a social story, great for kids for autism:
    https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/harborschool.com/2020/03/13/the-autism-educator-coronavirus-social-story-amanda-mcguinness/amp/
  7. Kiwi boxes - great STEM packs sent through the post - for younger children to teenagers (monthly subscription available).

 


If you like what you've read, you might be interested in our last blog article on relationships during lockdown / COVID-19 (click here).

The Secret to Harmonious Relationships During Lockdown

There's no PLACE like home

Lockdown, by nature of its social and economic implications, is putting unprecedented pressure on relationships of all kinds - personal and professional.

There are families who are used to spending hours apart each day, suddenly thrown into being with each other 24/7. And conversely, work colleagues, extended family and friends are now distanced, connected to us only through electronic devices. 

Whilst existing in all of these different relationships, each and every one of us is experiencing our own additional stress, anxiety and trauma. This might include worries about keeping ourselves and family members safe from the virus, how to get food, stress about paying bills, the trauma of losing a job or keeping a business afloat, trying to get to grips with homeschooling and meeting your kids needs, worries about how to access healthcare, being lonely/disconnected from loved ones, or perhaps even suffering from losing a loved one to coronavirus. 

Every time we interact with someone else right now, we’re connecting with them in the midst of our own individual experiences…and theirs. Though this creates a great opportunity for meaningful connection, it also poses a great threat from ‘misconnection’.

Get it right, and you and your family member or work colleague feel great - you both feel understood, cared-for and secure. Get it wrong, and both parties are left feeling bad - perhaps feeling rejected, invalidated, or neglected - and in no better position to cope with their current trials. At this unprecedented time, how you conduct yourself, and how you are perceived is being tested as never before.

So how can we get it right?  To help with this, I’m drawing on a well-known therapeutic approach from the psychology world: PLACE. This memorable acronym stands for: Playfulness, Love, Acceptance, Curiosity, and last (but certainly not least), Empathy.

Developed by the wonderful American Psychologist, Dan Hughes, PLACE is most closely associated with therapeutic relationship work with adopted and looked after children. However, many of us Psychologists see the benefits of extending this philosophy to life in general - to all relationships - whether parent-child, adult-adult, personal or professional. Adopting PLACE can be life transforming. So please, accept this nugget of wisdom as my gift to you during this most testing of times (all accolades to Dan of course, for I am just a messenger!):

 

PLACE:

Playfulness. Find things to enjoy within your relationships, something fun and light-hearted. When times are tough, you need this more than ever to keep your relationships going. Have some silly fun in the garden with the children; have a giggle over funny YouTube clips (other online video-sharing platforms are available!) with your friends over a virtual coffee morning, or share some jokes with colleagues. Allow fun to blossom within your relationships, and within your own daily routine.

 

Love. Find something to love (or at least like!) from all the people in your life. Yes, someone might be causing you headaches, heartaches or stress (and it may feel like you’re getting little back). But take a step back. You may have fallen into the well-worn trap of dwelling on negatives. Your relationships will have been forged around someone’s principal characteristics. As time passes, relationships may struggle as one party (or both) tries to hone the edges of the other. The insignificant edges. These weren’t relevant to your love or friendship in the beginning - and neither should they be now. Especially now. 

So go ‘back to basics’, and rediscover the source of your love. Appreciate them. Dwell on the positives. Moreover, let them know! Love begets love...and you know the next bit.... you've got to love yourself too! Nobody is more critical of you, than you. So at this time, give yourself a break - notice your positives, notice what you're giving, how hard you're trying, and who you are. Look at yourself through loving eyes.

 

Acceptance. Accept where people are at with whatever they are thinking, feeling or experiencing right now. It might be ugly, it might be depressing, it might increase your own anxiety. But it’s their experience and it’s important. Don’t judge it, don’t invalidate it and don’t minimise it. Show you get it, and show it’s okay to feel the way they do. Self-care alert: you don't get out of this one lightly either-  show acceptance of your own internal experience too. Validate yourself and accept that whatever you’re feeling right now is okay.​

 

Curiosity. Don’t assume you know what your children, siblings, parents, friends, colleagues, neighbours are thinking and feeling. Even if you notice they are struggling, don't assume you know what the reason is, or assume their journey right now is the same as yours. Ask them how they are doing, follow the threads of their communication to piece together the picture of what it's like for them - their trials, their stresses and their positives. Similarly, don't forget to share your own experience….’warts and all’. Remember, a bit of vulnerability is what helps us connect as humans.

 

Empathy. (Not sympathy!). Sympathy is about looking in on someone's experience and feeling sorry for them. Empathy is different. Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes (metaphorically!), and allowing yourself to feel what they must be feeling...and then showing them that you get that experience, and that you really, truly, deeply care about it. Empathy is a game changer - it's the lifeblood of maintaining healthy minds and healthy relationships. Show empathy to someone today and you'll see the power of it unfold before your eyes. Show it to yourself, and you're really on a winning streak.

 

Share the gift of PLACE. There’s literally no time like the present!