Young People and Mental Health

Mindful Self-Compassion – Leading the way for healthier young minds.


Young people and mental health in a changing world is the theme for World Mental Health Day today (10th October 2018).  For over a decade I have been calling for greater awareness and practical internal resources for our young people.  Sadly, we are still looking at an increase in mental ill-health.

The World Health Organisation reveal that half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviours such as unsafe sex or dangerous driving. Eating disorders are also of serious concern.

As a secondary education teacher, no matter what type of school I taught in, the underlying issues were the same.  The behaviours demonstrating there were problems presented differently – the boys in a failing school would sniff glue, bunk off, smoke dope and graffiti, and the high performing girls would retreat into self-harming; either through eating manipulation, cutting or denying themselves any mental respite.  However, I believe the fundamental, core issues remained the same; they were unhappy in their own skin.  There would be a myriad of different reasons, such as being too fat, too thin, not sporty enough, not brainy enough, too nerdy… and so the list goes on.  Their situations could be poles apart, but their ingrained dissatisfaction with who they are, how they show up in the world and their perceived powerlessness remained the same.

Mindful Self-Compassion can change all of this!  If young people learnt the skills to notice what thoughts, (relationships and situations) are causing them suffering, then they could make a choice to change their response to them.  They may not be able to change their circumstances, but they can begin to lessen the critical voice making them bad or wrong for what is happening. 

So how does Mindful Self-Compassion work differently to other resilience building modalities?  It gives us practical ways to respond to difficult moments, in the moment!  We do not have to remove ourselves from the difficulty to give ourselves what we need.  Going for a relaxing walk or connecting with a friend are great choices, but we cannot do this mid-way through an exam or when we are caring for a family member.

The three components of Mindful Self-Compassion come together to create a set of internal and practical resources we can give ourselves in the moment of pain, failure or disappointment.  We employ Mindfulness to notice things are tough and we notice that “this hurts” – we are suffering, this is a moment of difficulty.  We engage self-compassion practices to soften around the edges of these painful thoughts or moments and learn to soothe ourselves when things go wrong.  Through our appreciation of Common Humanity – “if anyone was walking in my shoes right now, they too would find this hard” we reduce our habit of isolating ourselves and recognise we are not alone. Our stories may be different, but as human beings we all want to be love and accepted for who we are.

So what if we could embed SELF-KINDNESS skills when our children are young, so that no matter what they are facing they could bring warmth and compassion to their aching hearts or troubled minds in the moment of suffering?  Just as they would comfort and reassure their best friend who was feeling sad, frightened or confused, they too could give themselves the same kindness, tenderness and support they would their best friend.

Children are taught to strive, to be their best selves and to constantly improve themselves.  Children are taught they must try harder, make the grade, be better.  What if they were just fine as they were?  What if they recognised deep down that they were ok just the way they were and that they could choose to bring kindness to any thoughts of self-doubt, self-loathing or self-hate that may arise as they face the challenges of adolescence and adulthood?

Mindful Self-Compassion has been empirically proven to reduce anxiety, depression and stress.  It increases happiness, social connectedness and wellbeing.  Kristin Neff’s research, world leading expert of Mindful Self-Compassion has shown 78% of people are significantly kinder to others than they are themselves.  Our inner critic is more likely to rule the roost and can make our inner lives a living hell.

What if we could bring MSC into every school, every youth club and every home, to change the way we talk to ourselves inside our heads?  How different would our learning communities and society be?  Let’s give our children and young people a chance by teaching them the resilience building skills they need to live a happier, kinder and richer life.  And if you’re a parent who is still beating yourself up for not being a good enough parent, why not give yourself the gift of MSC too.  It’s never too late to learn to befriend who you are!

Kathryn Lovewell

Certified Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher

Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher for Teens and Young Adults


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