Being a parent is the most wonderful thing in the world. And watching them grow and thrive is one of life’s most rewarding experiences. No matter who you are or where you’re from, there’s one thing every parent has in common: 

You want your child to be happy.

Stress and anxiety is a part of growing up. A right of passage to adulthood for every teenager. But what happens when the average teen angst turns into something much worse?

What happens when it turns to depression and self-harm?

Discovering your child is self-harming or, worse, has tried to take their own life is devastating. And when events like these happen, getting the help you and your child needs isn’t easy.

It’s something coach and counsellor Jacqui Bull knows all too well. And through the work of her business, The Serenity Practice and the charity iHeart, it’s something she is hoping to change.

It shouldn’t take self-harming & suicide attempts to get help.

jacqui bull of the serenity practice, tackling the teenage mental health pandemic

The pandemic has contributed to the worst mental health crises in living memory, especially in teenagers. And while you may encounter the odd headline talking about teenage mental health, you’ll find very few discussing the stress and anxiety this causes for parents — especially mums. 

Jacqui’s work at The Serenity Practice focuses predominantly on supporting mothers of children suffering mental health crises.

Why?

Because it’s something Jacqui has first-hand experience of herself.

When Jacqui’s daughter, Phoebe, was fourteen years old, she started to hear voices. But at that early stage, getting Phoebe the help she needed proved almost impossible.

In the UK, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) do fantastic work. But high demand for their services means they can only work with kids who are already suicidal. Something Phoebe wasn’t at the time – or at least not willing to admit to.

And without the support they needed, Jacqui’s worst nightmares came true. Phoebe attempted to take her own life – not once but three times.

This is where Jacqui takes up her story:

Before Phoebe attempted suicide, we approached CAHMS. But as she hadn’t tried taking her own life at that point, she couldn’t get a referral. The only way to do that was to admit she was suicidal – something she wasn’t at the time – or at least not willing to admit to.

It’s a Catch-22 because, without intervention, your child will end up suicidal. And the pandemic hasn’t made things any easier.

In fact, a recent study by teenage mental health charity YoungMinds.org backs up Jacqui’s worries. Of the young people interviewed:

  • 54% said they had received some form of support (e.g. through NHS mental health services; school or university counsellors; helplines; charities) during lockdowns
  • 55% said there was a counsellor or mental health support team available in their school, 23% disagreed
  • 48% didn’t think their school was focusing on wellbeing and teenage mental health issues
  • 67% admitted they feared lockdowns and the pandemic would have a negative long-term effect on their mental health

Since the lockdowns,” Jacqui explains, “there has been a 300% increase in CAMHS enquiries and referrals. But they can’t help every child and those they can have to have attempted to end their lives.

But it’s not just the kids that need help. As Jacqui explains:

Nothing can prepare you for the moment you discover your child has tried to end their life. And no matter how good your support network is, the grieving process afterwards is just the same as if she had died.

For many parents, myself included, it’s a process you go through multiple times. And it was after Phoebe’s third attempt that she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. 

The most challenging part was when she was released back to us. My husband and I couldn’t communicate by that point because we were living with the fear of entering Phoebe’s room every morning to find her dead. 

You’re living every parents’ nightmare, every single day. And you blame yourself because you tell yourself you’ve given them everything, yet they still want to end their beautiful life.

In my experience, there’s no real help.

Not CAMHS for your child, and certainly not for you as a parent. You’re going through this together, and if you’re falling apart, how can you show up and give your child the support they need?

It’s a pandemic nobody is talking about and that needs to change.

For me, there has been a happy ending. My daughter is through the darkest times, even though I’m ever vigilant. And now that my mind is much clearer, the lack of support out there is something I aim to change with The Serenity Practice.

Getting to the heart of teenage mental health issues.

teenage mental health retreats

There are many different facets to the work Jacqui is doing. One of the first is educating children in schools about their mental health.

Off the back of my experience with my daughter, I now go into primary and secondary schools and teach an 11-week curriculum with a charity called iHeart – who, I must add, are amazing!

Together, we teach children how the psychological system works and that our life experiences come from how we think, not the external factors of the outside world. We show them they are in control of how they think, feel and react and that nothing and nobody has the power to put a feeling into them.

It takes us 11-weeks because it’s a long process. At the start, teens believe it’s the external things that are making them feel bad. Things like their parents shouting at them to get off their Xbox or do the washing up.

The programme helps them understand that.

If they believe every external force has the power to affect how they think and feel, their life experience will be difficult. We show them that that wellbeing and resilience are inbuilt and show them how this gets covered up, effectively giving them an instruction manual for their mind.

Truly life-changing work, especially for teenagers who are going through their own life-changing experiences. And with the pandemic and lockdowns making life even harder, it’s a service Jacqui knows is more important now than it ever has been before:

“Lockdowns have meant all of us haven’t been able to have contact or relationships with our friends, family and peers. And for teenagers, this is even worse. They’re at an age where they should be rebelling. They should be spending more time with their friends than their family, and that has been taken away from them.

Staring at a screen is no substitute. We all need face-to-face relationships, teenagers even more so. And that is a big reason why there’s been such an increase in mental health issues since COVID hit.

Hopefully, now the world is opening up, Jacqui’s work with iHeart and schools is going to have a ground-breaking positive effect on the life of every teenager she speaks to.

But what about the parents?

Supporting parents so they can show up for their kids.

Getting help for your child when they’re in crisis is a no-brainer. But what about you as a parent?

The revelation that your child no longer feels they can carry on is earth-shattering. And it can break you into a billion tiny pieces, something Jacqui knows all about.

I felt I’d failed as a mother. I had no motivation and couldn’t move. When you reach that point, you need to speak to someone. Someone with experience of what you’re going through – but the help just doesn’t exist.

At the core of The Serenity Practice is the Taoist belief that ‘from a quiet mind comes right action’. You’re going through the same crises as your child, but before you can support them, you need to help yourself. You’re on edge and overthinking everything. You’re reactionary rather than proactive, and that’s understandable.

As mums, we’re more likely to want to try everything to fix our child’s problems and ignore our wellbeing.

So, with that in mind, what is Jacqui doing to make sure every parent gets the support they need?

I provide mums with an online community where they can find a ‘buddy’ with lived experience and participate in a listening circle. And I also run in-person ‘respite and hope’ retreats. Where mums can come together to support each other. Deep in the Kent countryside, spending some time away from home will give you time to replenish and remember the parts of you that know how to parent intuitively. 

This retreat is designed to take the parent to a place of serenity and calm rather than fear and anxiety during the most terrifying experience of their life. I hold your hand so that you can hold theirs.

And it’s open to anyone – regardless of what you pay. My payment model is based on financial circumstances, so you only pay what you can afford.

No child or parent should ever have to suffer because of financial hardship, so you pay what you can afford. Every penny is reinvested back into The Serenity Practice to subsidise mums who cannot afford help, so they can take advantage of free respite retreats.

Amazing, don’t you think?

Supporting those who need it most.

Mental health problems, regardless of a pandemic, is something that will never go away. But it’s people like Jacqui who are working tirelessly to offer their experience and support to those who need it most.

By educating school-age children, there’s a chance those struggling will speak up earlier before attempting suicide. And with Jacqui’s selfless pricing structure, aimed at helping every parent in society, everybody who needs it can get the help they need – regardless of income.

She truly is the definition of a change-maker.

To find out more about the amazing work Jacqui is doing to improve poor teenage mental health, remember to visit her website, The Serenity Practice.