Building Resilient and Happy Young People - Summary of talk by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg at Bedales School on 22 January 2016

Posted on 05th February 2016

Mental health and young people in the UK

75% of psychological problems start under the age of 25, and half start under the age of 15. According to the UK Mental Health Foundation, about 10% of school-age young people will go on to have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) argues that mental health issues cost the UK £70 billion every year, approximately 4.5% of GDP. Fiscal costs include lost productivity at work, benefit payments and health care expenditure. Social costs include poor quality of life, unnecessary burden and significant suffering when a life is lost to suicide, which happens 18 times every day in the UK[i].

In 2013 the most significant issue facing young people in Australia was coping with stress, followed by coping with school. Figures for 2014 confirm this trend, but with higher figures.

Being able to tell the difference between someone who is just sad and someone with a major depressive illness is important for parents, as not many young people seek help (see The World Health Organisation’s film). We must ensure that our sons and daughters have the fundamental social and emotional competences to cope with life such as conflict resolution, anger management and problem solving. Key to this is helping them to be doing it for themselves rather than simply telling them what to do, and technology can be a great help in this regard. The following points offer guidance and resources to that end.

1. Resilience

Coping and wellbeing can be approached through the concept of resilience which, broadly speaking, is the capacity of our sons and daughters to face, overcome, and be strengthened and even transformed by adversity.

The concept dates back to the 1970s, and anthropologist Professor Emmy Werner. Her work in Hawaii – in an area with high levels of adult unemployment and substance abuse – found that two thirds of young people exhibited destructive behaviours. Crucially, however, a third did not, and she found that these young people shared important characteristics – a finding reinforced in subsequent research.

Those young people who ‘survived’ had found a ‘charismatic’ adult – someone who made them feel, safe, valued, and listened to. Charismatic adults modelled social / emotional competences which the young people absorbed, and which enabled them to function in later life. Charismatic adults also modelled ‘self-talk’ – the ability to frame their experiences in a positive way.

‘Spark’ – an absorbing passion – was also found to be important in these people, as were ‘islands of competence’ – developing skill and competence are key to self-esteem, and ingrain the importance of practise and persistence.

These young people also had a sense of being part of something greater than themselves – not necessarily a religious connection, but certainly one that transcends the material world such as a philosophy or a cause.

2. See life as it is, but focus on the good bits

As parents we need to show our children life ‘as it is’. How we deal with issues that are difficult is pivotal – it’s important that young people know that bad things happen, but also that there are lots of good things.

3. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it

Even if humans find ourselves unable to change facts of life, we are nonetheless very good at being able to see things differently.  We should try to reframe negative things in the positive, so that our children will tend to do this as adults.

4. Be active, relax and rest

Teenagers need nine hours of sleep each night, and there are physiological, psychological and academic deficits when they don’t get enough sleep. We need to teach our children ‘beducation’ – that the bedroom is a haven for sleep; the importance of half an hour of dim light before sleep, and  winding down before bed; the value of jotting down any worries before retiring; and the necessity of having a dark, quiet and cold room. Noctural use of technology inhibits sleep, and we may need to set limits with regard to the use of technology.

Meditation is very good for relaxation, and there is a growing body of literature suggesting that it can help young people become better learners, to achieve more and to be happier.

Try ‘Smiling Mind’ and ‘Headspace’ for useful resources:
Activity is important, however we are more sedentary than we used to be. Girls may need particular encouragement.
Try the Couch to 5k running and training coach app:

5. If you want to feel good, do good

We should try to teach our children to do good. When we commit an act of kindness, we receive a boost to our immune system and our level of wellbeing improves.

6. When we’re together, everything’s better

The greatest predictor of a young person’s wellbeing is the extent to which they have a rich repertoire of friends. Accordingly, we as parents must be alert to how good our children are at obtaining, maintaining and retaining friends. If they are struggling, we must intervene.

Try for information and advice on friendships, as well as apps for dealing with stress anxiety, such as Reachout Worrytime and Reachout Breathe. Also

7. There’s more to life when you stop and notice

Many of the young people I work with are constantly on ‘fast forward’, and so miss the benefits of just looking at what is around them. We must encourage them to get into the habit of slowing down, pausing and just ‘being’.


8. Find time to lose yourself in what you love

With their ‘spark’ located, immersing themselves in their passion will give young people the satisfying sensation of time having flown by.

9. The meaning of life is life with meaning

Finding meaning, purpose and something to belong to is crucial, and can be easier said than done. As parents, we must empower our children to take action on the things they care about. More generally, having things to look forward to is important, and we can help by creating little milestones.

10. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides

We must encourage our children, and especially girls, to be happy with who they are. Girls are born into a giant beauty contest, and we need to do something about that.

For more information and resources visit:

To view Michael's slides from the presentation, 'Building Resilient and Happy Young People', click here 
To view Michael's slides from the presentation, 'Screening the Adolescent at Risk', click here
To view a student discussion with Michael, click here





  1. Suicide statistics report 2015 Including data for 2011-2013 Author: Elizabeth Scowcroft March 2015