Mental wellbeing for young people

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Kate Middleton photo Kate Middleton · 20 Jul, 2020

Did you know one of the most basic needs you have as a human is for connection with other humans? But relationships ain't easy - here's why.

It’s true - we’re still really only scratching the surface of understanding just how important it is but research now tells us that being lonely is as serious for your health and wellbeing as stuff like smoking, or not exercising or eating the wrong stuff. It properly matters - and although ANY human connection is good (smile at the check out person next time you do some shopping, it’s good for both of you!), its the really meaningful friendships and relationships that make the most different.

In the creation story in the Bible - whether you believe that as a real historical thing or just a good story to teach us some important truths, God looks at everything he has made and says it is good. Except for one thing. And it’s the human being being on their own. And he’s shown the guy a load of animals (and, fascinatingly, allowed him to name them - I mean how DID he come up with names like FLAMINGO or GIRAFFE?!) but although animals are great (I’m a cat person myself), they don’t replace people. So, God has to make another human - and at this point, it's not about gender - that contrast only comes in when he makes more than one kind of human in the story - so he makes these two different humans, the same, reflections of each other - but also with key differences.

And they make friends, and a bit more (!) and the rest is history. Well or story - but like I say whatever you believe, it’s so true that humans need humans. IT doesn’t matter how great stuff is everywhere else in your life, your mates and relationships MATTER.

And during adolescence, your brain starts to make some BIG adjustments - because up to then, the most important relationships you have are with whoever’s been looking after you - your parents, or family, or whoever has been around for you the most - generally other adults. But in adolescence, you start to get ready to BE the adult (gulp) and to form more balanced relationships which will become your bedrock once you leave home and start to live independently.

And as your brain adjusts, you need to explore and try out these new more intense friendships - because suddenly they mean A LOT MORE than they used to - more than just someone to kill time with, or buddy with when you’re gaming or kick a ball around with - these friendships matter EMOTIONALLY. So there’s a new intensity - and at first, your brain gets PROPERLY OBSESSED with these kinds of friendships. So it's normal to feel like they are at the literal centre of your life. But the problem is the same person who is your central friendship might not see you in that place for them - so there is a LOT of shifting around. And space for misunderstanding, or bugging each other, or falling out. And all those things are SUPER TRIGGERING for your emotional brain because friendships REALLY MATTER.

So friendships can feel like a pretty big deal in your teenage years. Now - a few thoughts to follow ...

What when it goes wrong?

Well these are the most rubbish moments, aren’t they? Whether this is one-off arguments where someone says something that really upsets you or something more sustained and nasty like bullying, teenage relationships experiments can be really hard if you come off badly out of them. Being the one no one is talking to or having someone just ignore your messages - this stuff is hard. And it happens a LOT in the teen years because everyone is winging it, trying stuff out, messing things up ALL the time. And sometimes to make themselves feel big or more important they take the mick out of someone else - it NEVER excuses bullying, but it is good to remember it might not be much to do with you at all.

If your mates are making you miserable then find someone you can chat with about it. This stuff can really affect you so don’t feel like you’re making a fuss - you’re not.

Nonverbal nonsense …

One classic space where friendships can get messy is online or SM/text spaces. You know - where you’re chatting but no one is with anyone else … it's SO easy to misunderstand what someone means in a text … you know what I mean, it SOUNDS snarky but did they mean it like that? Or to say things in a text you’d never say in person … and you know what sticking an emoji after it doesn’t make it all ok!! So IF something blows up, take some advice - if you can, find each other and talk? Or call and talk? Or … well just wait until you can talk? So much time has been lost over text arguments that actually never REALLY existed because they were just misunderstandings …

Romance beckons …

And finally - the most intense of relationships!! Romance … ah, you can’t beat it. Well, actually you can, sometimes it sucks and you feel like you are losing your sanity! Teen romances are intense, powerful … and often not super reliable. So if yours ended badly again - try not to take it personally. It will be as much about the other person as you. Not that that makes it feel any less gutting. Find someone who is up for listening, won’t judge you, and will tell you they never deserved you anyway and remember - things do settle down as you get older. And no, you probably won’t be alone forever just because someone dumped you at 15. They probably didn’t ever deserve you. And you will find someone much better …