Lessons Learned While Working With Mentally Challenged Adolescents

Dear reader,

Prior to my first post, my blog posts have always been in Norwegian. However, after a lot of consideration and feedback from my audience on social media, I’ve decided to write in English so that a greater number of people can benefit from my posts. I believe that my posts especially this one is worthy to be read by the whole world as it relates to mental health which I believe is of utmost importance in every life especially among young adults.

Today’s post is based on a personal experience I had about six years ago while studying business at BI – Norwegian Business School, where I volunteered as a mental health coach (also known as ‘support person’ in Norwegian) in the Municipality of Baerum Club. The club was set up for kids and adolescents with mental and physical disabilities and my work there eventually became my first part time job. The Adolescents I worked with were aged between 15 and 18 years. Some of them were battling with psychological disorders such as depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder. While a number of others were extremely insecure and anxious because they had been bullied or they had suffered from anxiety or experienced some kind of trauma.

Alongside their therapists, my job was to motivate and facilitate social interaction and meaningful leisure time. I also took it as a point of duty to boost their confidence and help them build social networks so as to avoid isolation and loneliness. My encounter with these children was a very beautiful one such that I could not stop helping them even after I had completed my studies and got a full time job as a Marketing Manager. To see a girl who was extremely anxious and scared to death of social interaction laugh and joke in a social setting was amazing. And to yet see another girl who suffered depression and bipolar disorder finally get a job and start to work out on a daily basis just melts your heart. We laughed, cried, celebrated and helped each other on daily basis and they eventually became family to me.

In fact, I developed an interest for Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) which is a way of engaging perceptual, behavioral and communication techniques in changing someone’s thoughts and behaviors to help achieve desired outcomes for them. With scientifically proven methods, theories and exercises, I was able to help those teens build more confidence and become more sociable.

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“I chose not to conceal my own vulnerability behind a strong and protective ego and I was able to discover that vulnerability can be a source of relatedness and unity” – Victoria Julie

Here are a few lessons I learned:

1. Each person, irrespective of his or her abilities or even disabilities, needs love and care. This is because when love is shown consistently to someone (especially those with disabilities), changes come faster than when they are left to themselves.

2. Many modern societies hold independent, individualism and success values for every of their citizens, more traditional societies accord respect to the old and sick but only a few societies are able to recognize people with disabilities. Some rich societies even regard the weak and disabled as human and economic liabilities and push those with mental disabilities to the margins of society.

3. A whole lot of people with learning disabilities need professional help to be able to overcome their physical and even psychological difficulties; to grow in autonomy and develop their abilities. Their need for respectful and committed relationships stems from loneliness and poor self-esteem. The ones I worked with needed me to give undistorted attention to their cry; embrace their weaknesses with tenderness and be committed to helping them. As I responded accordingly, I discovered I was healing in the process too. I chose not to conceal my own vulnerability behind a strong and protective ego and I was able to discover that vulnerability can be a source of relatedness and unity. This fellowship does not require anyone being superior to the other. It only requires that we render help to each other in a mutual way. This fellowship awakened a desire to give life to others and also to receive life from them through a connection of hearts.

4. The importance of goal setting and initiative development. As soon as I understood the young adults I worked with, we began choosing projects and activities that would be most engaging and rewarding to them and suit their interests as well. This was one way of boosting their confidence. One of the teens had passion for photography as I did and so we planned and carried out some creative activities together. We did street photography and had fun photo-shoot sessions in which we dressed up for different themes. Another had interests in film. We visited movie theaters and saw movies that we discussed at a later time. I also introduced my passions to them and they loved the idea. One of those passions is CrossFit. I had fun sessions with them in my local cross fit gym and introduced them to my crossfit friends. After a few months of this goal-setting-and-achieving technique, I noticed there was a huge difference in them – and myself as well. They developed a sense of purpose and self-awareness as well as a desire to passionately help others.

5. Young people need to face intellectual, interpersonal and intrapersonal challenges to prepare them for the real world. Whenever they choose to participate in any activity, it should be in environments that have rules, challenges and complexities that are inherent in the real world. They should be given opportunities to engage in critical thinking, get along with their peers and adults and be able to reflect on their progress away from the influence of parent protection. They should be judged and given feedback. This way, they can push themselves forwards towards behavioral and strategic adjustments in life.

6. Challenges and small wins are important in building confidence. Positive strengthening gives the assurance that they can develop a solid sense of self-worth, confidence and a strong determination to push forward even in the midst of challenges.

7. To help a young person with learning disabilities, you don’t have to seek for a ‘cure’ for the disability. You simply look for ways to help them become capable of helping themselves and give them what they require to work through difficulties.

8. Healthy lifestyle habits are also able to influence confidence. Eating right and getting enough rest and exercise helps focus and concentration and prepares one for hard work.