One in four people deal with anxiety and depression in their lifetime, so understanding the warning signs and learning how to manage the symptoms as early as possible are vital to helping yourself and vulnerable younger people.
There is no single cause of anxiety and it can often be as simple as one person being born more anxious than another. However, anxiety can be caused by stressful events, often in childhood, such as: becoming ill, neglect or an abusive home setting, the death of a close friend or family member, frequent house moves or ongoing school related issues such as bullying or exams.
Many young people rely on the stability and routine of school to manage anxiety and stress. Others may find their education a trigger for their anxieties, especially in older children who are under increasing pressure to perform in exams. Understanding how to spot anxiety and manage it before it becomes out of control is crucial, so, how can you help?
Signs to look out for in young people suffering with anxiety and stress may come in many different forms, but common indicators include1:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Tearful outbursts
- Visiting the toilet regularly
- Complaining of tummy aches or feeling unwell
- Seeming withdrawn from activities
- Fidgeting and playing with hair, stationary, fingers etc
- Not eating properly
If you spot these symptoms in students, it is important for you to notify parents/carers and if it is appropriate you can try some of the following strategies:
- Hold open conversations with the whole class about mental well being
- Have a ‘worry box’ available for children so they can write down their concerns and allow you to approach them rather than them having to verbalise issues
- Take time outside with pupils and ask them to observe their surroundings, giving them a focus outside of their worries
- Offer a safe space for children and teenagers to talk about how they are feeling
- Try encouraging young people to express how they feel through a creative practice such as drawing, painting or writing
- Try sharing a selection of books with younger children which tackle anxiety and issues faced by children such as Rubys Worries, My Little Book Of Big Worries, Happy: A Children’s Book of Mindfulness, It’s A No Money Day, When Sadness Comes to Call and Arlo The Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep
Jessica Down, a teacher from West London said “Anxiety presents in a variety of different ways in children and teenagers. Anxiety may have been caused by different factors, so as a teacher it is important that you offer yourself as a supportive and consistent figure to each child. You can be critical to a child coping with their symptoms and managing their anxiety. It is also important to speak to the school’s inclusion team to gain additional support for the child both in and outside the classroom”
If you would like to do some further reading on the topic, some helpful resources can be found at: www.nspcc.org.uk and www.youngminds.org.uk/. Both offer helpful advice, training programmes and practical solutions to supporting young people through anxiety and stressful situations.