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Stand by me - Book Review

Stand by me: Helping your teen through tough times

Kirwan, J. (2014). Penguin.

Sir John Kirwan’s latest book is a great addition to his first, and one I will add to my bookshelf as a quick “hands on” reference to help with my teenage stepson. It’s not that my stepson is, as far as I know, experiencing mental illness, but he’s 14 and the grunting has started – so how do I really know?

And that’s the beauty of Stand By Me – it isn’t just for parents who have children in the throes of mental distress, it’s relevant and extremely helpful for all parents wanting to do a better job bringing up and listening to their teens.

It digs down into the ways and reasons that teenagers hide their feelings and what you can do to gently bring them out of themselves and support them unconditionally when they tell you something you may not want to hear.

The book is factual in that it has statistics and best practice for identifying and managing mental illness in youth, practical in that it has so many wonderful and generous comments from teens and their parents about how to do, and how not to do, things, and compassionate with JK’s warmth and frankness about his own mental health and natural everyday concerns for his three teens.

Like All Blacks Don’t Cry, this new book is a page turner. The chapters are short and to the point, which makes for easy digestion, and usually hold at least one pearl of wisdom.

My favourite is John’s idea that anxiety, or fear, should be cuddled, rather than run away from or hidden. “The last thing that ugly creature wants is a cuddle. So grab hold of it and give it a cuddle – this breaks it down a bit and take the fear out of it,” JK says (page 51). This makes me giggle, and I’ll remember it next time I need to exercise some self-management.

Chapters include topics such as teen anxiety and depression, the teenage brain, getting out of it, self-harm, eating disorders and suicide, warning signs – when to worry, how involved should parents be, loving the real child, hope, resilience (excellent) and wellbeing.

Advice and information from psychologists Elliot Bell and Kirsty Louden-Bell are necessary I think to give the book more professional weight than just having JK’s voice alone, as entertaining and valuable as that may be.

The occasional comments here and there from psychiatrist Lyndy Matthews are refreshingly down to earth and strategically placed by freelance writer Margie Thomson, who, in John’s own words, did much of the heavy lifting in the writing of Stand by Me. Lyndy’s description of how nerve cells affected by depression are like a tree in winter (page 114) is a beautiful and easily understood concept.

The only annoyances the book held for me were that Elliot’s information tended toward the impenetrable (what is an objective circumstance, for instance?) and could certainly have been more user friendly; the summaries at the end of each chapter were often unwieldy and difficult to read: grey text in grey boxes. And I would have liked a photograph of the psychologists, and Lyndy, to relate better to who had been talking to me.

Otherwise, bravo, an awesome resource for Kiwi parents and caregivers bringing up teens with or without experience of mental illness.

Reviewed by Susie Hill, Website Consultant with the Mental Health Foundation

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RĀHINA | MONDAY

Reconnect with someone you care about / He hononga tangata, he hononga aroha

 

When life gets busy it’s easy to forget to check in with the people in our lives, butwe know connection is important for our wellbeing. Having a kōrero with others nurtures our relationships and helps us to feel happy, connected and secure.
Over time, these chats help us to understand each other better and ensure we have people we can count on when times are tough. Today we encourage you to reconnect with someone you care about. Whether it’s with whānau, friends, hoamahi/colleagues, iwi or community, a little chat can go a long way.

A few ideas for reconnecting:

  • Check in with whānau you haven’t spoken to in a while. Have a chat on the phone, send them a text or catch up kanohi ki te kanohi/face to face if you can. Ask them how they’re going and really listen.

  • Write a letter or email to your whānau sharing what you appreciate about them.
  • Look back through your photos and share a happy memory to reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with.

  • Have a think about whether there is someone in your life who may be going through a tough time. Take time to kōrero and ask them how they are, empathise and listen. You can find more support for how to have a safe and supportive kōrero on page 16 of the Mental Health Awareness Week guide.

 

 

 

RĀTU | TUESDAY

Get outside in nature with someone / E puta ki te taiao

 

It’s often the little things that bring us joy. The singing birds, the grass beneath our feet, the wind on our faces. Kōrero doesn’t have to happen indoors. Today we encourage you to get outside in nature with someone else. Take a moment to chat about the things that support your wellbeing and appreciate the beauty around you. You might be surprised by what you notice!

A few ideas for connecting in nature:

  • Have your lunch outside with a friend or hoamahi/colleague, take notice of the
    nature around you. Even if you work outdoors, it’s great to take a break and
    spend some quailty time together outside of your work space.

  • Connect with the whenua; grab some mates and get into the great outdoors - go on a bush walk, walk up your local maunga, breathe in the salty fresh air of the moana. Take time to kōrero and get to know each other whilst you’re there.

  • Head down to your local beach with a friend or whānau member and pick up any rubbish you come across. It’s a great way to spend quality time together outside and keep Aotearoa beautiful! Check out the Department of Conservation
    website for more ideas.

  • Take tamariki on a nature walk and get them to point out the things they see, smell and hear. Ask them how being in nature makes them feel. Or, head to the school field, park or your backyard and have tamariki lie on the grass and do this tummy breathing Sleeping Statues activity from the Sparklers website.

  • Have a cuppa and a kōrero in the garden with your whānau, listen to the birds, be present and enjoy each other’s company. You might like to take off your shoes and feel the grass beneath your feet.

  • Go outdoors, snap a photo of some nature that catches your eye and send it to someone to brighten their day.

Tuesday

RĀAPA | WEDNESDAY

Have a kōrero about Te Whare Tapa Whā/ Tōku Whare Tapa Whā

 

Now that we’re halfway through MHAW, why not use this day to explore your wellbeing through Te Whare Tapa Whā and have a kōrero with someone else about what you learn? Consider the four pou and think about the different ways you can boost your wellbeing.

A few ideas for exploring Te Whare Tapa Whā:

  • Learn about Te Whare Tapa Whā and its four dimensions of wellbeing. Reflect on which areas you feel are going well for you right now and which ones you need to focus on for your hauora/wellbeing. Share your thoughts with someone else.
  • If you’re in an office or shared workspace, get hoamahi together and have each corner of the room represent one of the four dimensions of Te Whare Tapa Whā. Ask them to stand in the corner of the dimension they feel is strongest for them at the moment. They might like to then share why they chose this dimension with the group.
  • Print out and fold this Chatterbox to encourage tamariki to have a kōrero about their wellbeing using Te Whare Tapa Whā.
  • Add a song to our MHAWNZ playlist on Spotify. It might be a song you love to work out to for your tinana, that uplifts your wairua, soothes your hinengaro, or a whānau favourite that you sing along to in the car!

 

 

RĀPARE | THURSDAY

Connect through kindness / Takohatia ki tētahi

 

When we do something nice for someone else, be it a friend, colleague or stranger, not only does it make them feel good, it gives our wellbeing a boost in return. Whether it’s a big gesture or just a smile, everyone has a little act of kindness to offer. Think about someone who might need some extra support right now, because today is all about giving: our time, our kindness, our aroha, our kōrero, to others.

A few ideas for spreading kindness:

  • Send a kind message to someone in your life and let them know you’re thinking of them
  • Visit a friend, neighbour or family member who could do with some company or tautoko/support. If you’re unable to visit, give them a call.
  • Volunteer your time to others in need – join a community group, pick up someone’s groceries or simply drop off a hot meal to someone who could do with a helping hand – not only will it create a moment to kōrero, it will give you and them a feel-good boost.
  • Make a kaimahi a cup of tea or bring in some biscuits and create a moment to kōrero in the lunchroom – look for opportunities to put a smile on someone’s face
  • Introduce yourself to a new parent at your child’s school, new kaimahi at your workplace or a new neighbour in your community. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them settle in.

RĀMERE | FRIDAY

Come together and reflect / Noho tahi, kōrero tahi

 

Come together with others at school, work or home, or find a moment on your own to reflect on the week just gone. Be present and take time to kōrero about the things you’ve learnt, and the wellbeing tools you’re going to continue with. What little chats have you had this week? How does connecting with others and talking openly about wellbeing make you feel?

A few ideas for reflecting together:

  • Try switching off the TV for a night and play a game with your partner or tamariki instead. You could even make music together, or just talk.
  • Organise a virtual dinner date. Set a time to eat and jump on a video call with someone else. Share kai, reflect on your weeks and chat about how you’re going to keep up the kōrero.
  • Plan a whānau activity day - create a moment to kōrero about what makes each person feel good and plan an activity that focuses on each of those things. It could be getting out in nature for a walk, cooking a favourite meal, or video calling a relative overseas. 
  • Share kōrero and kai with your team at work. Everyone bring a plate and chat about the things that you do to look after your wellbeing. If you’re working from home, have lunch and chat together over Zoom. Afterwards, have kaimahi fill in the wellbeing action plan at the end of the Mental Health Awareness Week guide to help them stay mentally healthy at work.
  • For tamariki, end the week with this How Am I Doing? activity by Sparklers. It’ll encourage them to think about their wellbeing and all of the things they already do to care for it.