Give them the tools and they can help save themselves.
That’s the message from the consultant clinical psychologist behind a pioneering class that aims to help improve the mental health of children across Scotland.
Jim White, formerly of NHS Lanarkshire, developed his Stress Control classes to give young people the skills they need to help deal with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
And while awareness of mental health issues has drastically improved, he believes giving youngsters actual techniques and skills to deal with difficult emotions and live healthier lives is the answer to truly tackling mental health issues across Lanarkshire.
“If you give people a light at the end of a tunnel, and the tools to get there, then I believe people can turn their lives around,” 60-year-old Jim said.
“The reality is life hits you hard at some point. Especially going into adulthood, you need skills to deal with that.
“Stress Control was developed for adults and worked really well but I always wanted to do ealier interventions.
“I chose 15 because when I used to work in adult services, around 50 per cent of adults had developed problems before the age of 15.
“I think it’s vital to get in there before people have developed serious problems, when there is a better chance of rescuing them.
“If you can get kids before too much damage is done, you can turn them around.”
Jim spent several years as a clinical psychologist dealing with adult patients across Lanarkshire.
He left to set up his Stress Control classes he hopes will bring vital life skills to help more youngsters stave off negative emotions that can lead them to the brink.
He said: “The trouble I found was CAHMS teams were only seeing those already with severe problems.
“Through Stress Control we teach Personal and Social Education teachers to deliver an eight-week programme designed to easily fit into the existing PSE timetable.
“It’s easy and it’s sustainable. Once you’ve taught the teachers once they can continue on for years.”
He continued: “Our pilot study in Pollok covered over 100 children and the results were really good. Having a captive audience is brilliant because kids can’t dodge it if it’s part of their timetable.
“Our first trial was in Pollok which, like Wishaw, has some very deprived areas.
“The pupils maintained their progress with anxiety and depression decreasing and well-being increasing during the trial and in the next nine months.
“Pupils were saying it was appropriate for them and felt schools should be providing this.
“Eventually we’d like to see it in schools across the country.
“The senior pupils who first go through it can then teach younger pupils the techniques as well, as peer teaching can be really powerful.”
The eight sessions cover key life themes and techniques to tackle each, including anxiety and depression, exercise, facing your fears, controlling panic and being compassionate and connecting with others.
Many have been designed to tackle 21st century issues hitting teenagers the hardest.
Jim said: “We have a session on the importance of sleep, which is a huge issue for teenagers now. They have that bloody phone next to their pillow and if it pings at 3am they’ll still pick it up.
“Another big theme is the degree of loneliness kids face now.
“Social media in a sense connects you to the world but in a bigger way it is totally isolating.
“Kids need to be taught about the importance of social interaction, which adults from a different era now take for granted.”
Jim also delivers the classes to parents, who he thinks are a vital part of any child’s progression to good mental health.
He added: “We’d like to end up expanding it to pupils, parents and teachers to really tackle mental health across the board.
“Teaching in stessful and being a parent is stressful. Parents are vital in this and if we can help both, using the same language and same skills, they can then help each other.”