Yesterday, the Anna Freud Centre launched the first ever #SelfcareSummer to encourage more young people to take part in activities to promote their mental health and wellbeing over August.
The initiative comes as the Centre publishes findings from a consultation with young people with depression and anxiety to identify the self-care approaches they have used to improve their wellbeing. The findings show that children and young people are actively engaging with a huge range of activities to help manage their own mental health and that there is a need for further research in this area.
Over 350 people – 156 young people and 197 parents and carers – contributed to the online consultation which aimed to find out about which self-care approaches are favoured by children and young people (aged 11-25) to address their anxiety and depression.
The consultation – What works for me: the self-care approaches of children and young people – captured the views of young people and parents and carers about their experiences of 85 self-care approaches – and whether they would use these approaches again or recommend them to others. It also sought participants’ perspectives on why they chose certain self-care strategies, why these approaches were effective for them, and priorities for future research in this area.
Throughout the #SelfcareSummer children, young people and parents and carers will be encouraged to try self-care strategies and share their experience on the Anna Freud Centre’s webpages. The aim is to collate findings in order to build a better understanding of how self-care can help alleviate anxiety and depression.
The six most commonly chosen approaches to self-care identified so far in responses from both children and young people and parents and carers in the consultation were: listening to music, reading or watching TV, talking to someone they trust, going outside, and expressing emotion – both laughter and crying. Listening to music and reading or watching TV came up across all age groups and genders.
Professor Peter Fonagy, CEO of the Anna Freud Centre, says: “Looking after our own mental health, or self-care, is essential for all of us. It is about valuing ourselves and listening to and having compassion for our experiences. Ultimately all professional therapies work in part by improving our attitudes to ourselves. We know that some young people don’t want therapy and to talk about their feelings with adults; nevertheless it’s really important that they too have an opportunity to address their needs. Self-care is one way they can do this. It’s not a substitute for professional care, but focusing on improved self-care could provide an important adjunct and be particularly relevant when support from others is not readily available.
“Mental health is the greatest health burden of the 21st Century and it will never be tackled by specialist mental health services alone. As a community we need to continue to strengthen established services, but also to be curious about approaches that do not involve mental health specialists.
“One of the great things about self-care is that just by taking better care of yourself, you are taking an active role in a process of healing. And becoming active and purposeful is the essence of recovery from mental ill health. We need more research into self-care approaches and the experiences of children and young people must be at the heart of this research agenda.”
A recent literature review conducted by the Anna Freud Centre as part of this work identified a wide range of potential self-care strategies used to address anxiety and depression but found that few of these had been evaluated in a rigorous way. This online self-care consultation is the first step to bridge this gap.
The open-ended responses from both children and young people and parents and carers suggest that accessibility, safety and perceptions of peers are key factors in the choice of self-care strategy, and that the right self-care strategy might vary according to the individual, or their mood and symptoms on a particular day. They also said that the process of trial and error, trying out different approaches and discovering what works can itself be empowering for a young person experiencing mental health difficulties.