“Exploring Emotional Health” is a fantastic blend of wisdom, vital information and sensitively structured workshop sessions for young people. Youth workers, who might be wary or unsure about tackling topics like anxiety and depression are gently led through some introductory sessions about identifying and coping with emotions – myths are debunked, stereotypes are challenged and your confidence in tackling this subject will grow.
I’d go so far as to say that all youth work where there is a “teaching” aspect should be shaped like this. A workshop style approach as adopted by Liz, helps young people explore the topics in their own way – space to reflect, space to ask questions, space to interact with the thoughts, feelings and comments of others. A key question many young people ask as they face the regular emotional upheavals of adolescence is, “am I normal?” To unpack each subject in a way that makes it accessible, less scary and without putting young people on the spot is a real skill – Liz achieves that here.
What is a bonus, and sets this resource book apart from many others, is the holistic way that Liz approaches the whole subject and each section. It is so important to be a reflective practitioner, but what is rare is to see questions for the youth workers to ask of themselves – as well as their young people. This might be a tool for a youth group – and in fact you could draw on different elements in numerous work contexts – but, it is also a tool for the youth worker. In work and ministry, one of the best things we can offer young people is a “healthy us” – that doesn’t mean we are emotionally “sorted”, but it does mean we are prepared to go on a journey and explore our own emotions as well as those of our young people and become more emotionally literate ourselves. This book is a gift to the Church, and a gift to youth work – if you want to see young people live life to the full (and “full” means our whole selves, everything we are – including our emotions) – then I encourage you to get it.
What follows is a brief Q&A with Liz which I hope gives you more insight to the book than my words above can, I’m looking forward to what Liz produces next!
AC : Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
Liz : As a freelance youth worker, my ethos is to provide holistic support to adolescents in their relationships and to promote positive wellbeing; with themselves, with others and with the wider world.
I offer this through a range of innovative youth work through education, training and intervention. What this actually looks like is: mentoring students in schools; running therapeutic group work; and training others who work with young people.
I have previously contributed to the work of local and national organisations which most recently include Romance Academy, SelfharmUK and Premier Youth and Children’s Work Magazine.
When not in youth work mode, you can usually find me drinking too much coffee in my home town in Dorset or relaxing on Bournemouth beach with my husband, Nick.
AC : What first prompted you to write this book, why do you think it is needed right now?
Liz : I recognised that young people were still asking similar questions that I asked when I was a teenager and they were similarly getting little or no response. Questions like ‘How can I be a Christian and be diagnosed with depression?’ or ‘Does God still love me, even though I self-harm?’ Just like me, it seemed they weren’t getting answers or even a safe space to begin exploring these questions.
As I began to see this picture from the flipside of being a youth worker myself, I started to see that it was because people didn’t know how to talk about emotional health and Christian faith in the same sentence.
As a result, many young Christians like me are being pushed aside in the church and sent off with derogatory comments like ‘You need to pray harder, then God will heal you of depression’ or ‘Your body is a temple, so God will of course be angry that you’re cutting yourself’ instead of being embraced in a loving family who are journeying with us – not against us.
I think many Christians who work with teenagers are scared to engage in these conversations because they themselves haven’t engaged with it; usual because the people older than them haven’t engaged with it as well. That’s why in the book there is a space solely dedicated to the reader which reflects on how that topic has affected their own lives, before moving on to the young people’s workshops.
Acknowledging that these questions were still being asked – even 10 years on from my adolescent experiences – and meeting youth leaders who were too scared to engage in these topics, I began to focus my work on mental and emotional health.
Dave Gatward, the managing director of Kevin Mayhew publishers contacted me about some work I’d done for Premier Youth and Children’s Work Magazine. We both agreed that youth leaders are an essential component in supporting young people’s faith and emotional health. We wanted to equip them to create a safe space to begin these vital conversations. Thus, Exploring Emotional Health was born.
AC : Social media gets a few mentions, but isn’t the focus – how do you think young people are managing their online selves vs. their face to face with other people?
Liz : Social media is a prominent part of young people’s lives. It’s a key part of building their identity and figuring out their place in the world so it made sense to include it in the book.
I think social media can be a really helpful place to find connection but with that, comes negative influences. We have some teenagers finding solace in knowing that others are facing similar struggles and learning where to get healthy support from. On the other hand, we have young people trolling themselves due to such a severe lack of self-esteem. This shows the real mix in how young people – and adults – are manging these two conflicting, yet in ways complimentary, worlds.
We must remember that the first wave of people living in these two worlds are only just becoming adults. So many questions are being bounced around by researchers, youth workers and adults about how to help young people grow up in this tension. Yet I believe it is our responsibility to not ignore this reality, but rather embrace this culture, figuring it out with them whilst incorporating our Christian faith into this.
AC : You tackle some hefty topics with the workshops – which was the toughest one to write?
Liz : Writing about depression was tough. It’s so close to home for me and in many ways is an invisible, yet debilitating, illness. The hopelessness that comes with depression is very difficult to empathise with, and I think the Church struggles to relate to that when we talk about a God of hope.
I offer a theological insight into each topic and I found myself being most critical when it came to writing this in the depression workshop. I think this was because I’ve had some really unhelpful comments said to me in the past so I was keen to de-bunk those myths. Also, I wanted people to know that in the Bible depression is addressed so much more than they realise. It isn’t a made-up illness as a result of a lack of faith but instead, an experience that more of us can relate to more than we realise.
Throughout the writing process I found it tough to keep the chapters and workshops short enough so they were user-friendly, but still informed and giving enough credit to each of the large topics. Each one is a real issue and as I explain in the book, every one is the start of a conversation rather than an ‘all you need to know’ guide.
AC : There don’t seem to be any books like this aimed at home groups / discipleship meetings for adults – is that because adults are emotionally literate?
Liz : It seems there is an un-written rule that adults have it all together and that includes their emotional literacy. Yet, adults can be just as vulnerable as young people.
The negative stigma that is attached to having poor mental health hinders adults from seeking support. It can be seen as a weakness and who wants to listen to a weak adult? This is why we must continually fight against this damaging stigmatism.
I hope that as a result of Exploring Emotional Health, both adults and teenagers will begin to become more emotionally literate; for themselves and so they can support others.
AC : When you think of young people and their emotional health, what stands out as the number one thing young people are struggling with?
Liz : I don’t think there is one given thing, especially as they over-lap into one another. For example, anxiety disorders are on the rise and it’s scary to see the lengths young people go too to self-manage their anxious minds; self-harm is one coping mechanism for this.
AC : What is next? Are you starting another book or having a breather?
Liz : There’s lots of conversations happening behind the scenes with Kevin Mayhew publishers with different book proposals happening which is incredibly exciting.
Alongside author life, I am continuing with freelance by working in schools, offering my training services and supporting my own emotional health.