Laying foundations for resilience in young people with Dr Anthony Venning

30/06/2017 Friends sitting on brachiating on the playground during summer day with trees on background

Dr Anthony Venning is an experienced and registered Clinical Psychologist. With one in four young people in Australia experiencing mental health issues, Dr Venning understands the challenges families face around youth mental health. Below are his tips for families and young people on how they can sustain wellbeing and reduce the impact that mental illness can cause.

Being young can be a turbulent time (developmentally, socially, and physically), and we know that adolescence is the age of onset for most mental disorders. It’s also a time that provides opportunities for growth and the development of strengths.

The area of positive psychology adopts a strengths based approach and focuses more on developing psychological wellbeing to prevent mental illness from taking hold rather than treating it once it has. With this in mind, I suggest the following three tips to help young people and families develop the strengths and resources needed to buffer against or reduce the impact of mental illness.

  1. Focus on character strengths

It has been empirically shown that focusing on your character strengths can help you to be more creative, productive, successful, and resilient. The first step is to identify your character strengths, which you can assess with the free survey at the VIA institute http://www.viacharacter.org/www/.

From the ranked list of 24 strengths provided, pick one of your lower strengths that’s important to you and use it in a different and challenging way every day. For example, if one of your lower strengths is bravery, and you usually keep to yourself, you could challenge yourself to be brave and say “hello” and have a conversation with a new person each day. Research has indicated that while recognising and practicing your top strengths is good, recognising and practicing one of your lower strengths gives the biggest boost to wellbeing. Parents can do this activity with their children and challenge each other to go outside of their comfort zones and experience the benefits that come with practicing strengths.

  1. Moderate technology

Being tech aware and tech active is normal these days. However, it has been suggested that when we spend excessive time on social media without breaks, young people in particular are cramming their brains with information and preventing it from working to its full potential. The brain is designed for periods of ‘activity’ to learn and take in information (e.g., school, work), and ‘relaxation’ (e.g., rest, downtime) to then consolidate and transfer the information gained in the ‘activity’ periods to our long-term memory. Setting limits on tech time, along with normal expectations for homework, is a must to ensure the brain is in its best position to do what it’s designed to do (learn, consolidate, retain, and recall information).

  1. Do things you enjoy.

While this last tip seems too simple to be worth anything, it’s probably the most important tip. Too often adults and young people get caught up in ‘life’ – forgetting to make time for the things we like doing, and end up feeling overwhelmed when faced with challenges. At these times we often get consumed with problems (narrow thinking), end up withdrawing (isolate), and get caught in a cycle of distress that can be hard to reverse. In contrast to this, when we engage in activities we enjoy, we want to experience the moment, our thinking is creative and curious, and we want to engage with people. Put another way, by engaging in activities we enjoy we develop the internal qualities and strengths that can build and sustain wellbeing and even undo the root causes of mental illness.

The YMCA Father’s Day Fun Run is a great opportunity to go out and experience the moment with your family!

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The author: Dr Venning is a registered Clinical Psychologist in South Australia who currently holds positions with the Department of Psychiatry at Flinders University, the Australian Defence Force, the University of Adelaide, and is the Director of Venning Consulting. His previous roles include College Psychologist at Loreto College (South Australia), Senior Psychologist with the Department for Correctional Services (South Australia), and working clinically in private practice. Dr Venning has delivered presentations in the area of Positive Psychology and Mental Health at state, national, and international conferences, has been published in a number of national and international journals, has contributed three chapters to edited books on Mental Health and Wellbeing, and through Venning Consulting works with several South Australian and National companies to promote and measure wellbeing in the workplace.

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