Q&A with Nicky Brand, Marshman Foundation

We recently sat down with Nicky Brand, General Manager of the Marshman Foundation, to speak with her about current issues facing young people and how concepts within Youth Opportunities’ programs can help to alleviate these problems. 

What is one of the most concerning issues facing young people today?

Unfortunately, anxiety is on the rise in Australian teenagers according to reports from the Australian Bureau of StatisticsMission Australia and the Black Dog Institute. These alarming increases have been confirmed as a global trend in the medical journal Pediatrics late last year. We are also seeing academic pressure being cited by many teenagers as the main contributor to their increased anxiety.

What are some of the ways to improve mental health and wellbeing for young people?

Research tells us that helping young people to reclaim a sense of control over their own lives can dramatically improve their psychological health and reduce the effects of severe anxiety. Termed ‘locus of control’ in the world of psychology, people with an external locus of control are more likely to experience anxiety since they believe that they are not in control of their lives, whereas those with an internal locus of control understand that they are, in fact, in the driver’s seat.

This internal locus of control is also known as self-determination or a sense of agency, and helps young people to have greater confidence in their ability to influence outcomes through their own actions. At Youth Opportunities, we call this ‘personal leadership’ and it is taught in our programs.

What are some of the concepts that Youth Opportunities uses to tackle anxiety?

We have developed some specific tools and concepts that help to tackle young people’s feelings of lack of control and anxiety. Two main concepts are drawn from our 4 Big Decisions, which are part of the framework of our Personal Leadership programs and workshops. And the great thing about these concepts is that they are applicable to anyone, not just young people.

Decide to Send Stars: Teaching positive communication is a big part of the program, and it isn’t just about what we say to others, but what we say to ourselves that can be powerful. We often see young people with unhelpful patterns of self-talk, often over-estimating danger, and under-estimating their ability to take charge. Using these techniques, we help them to challenge and reframe their thoughts to more adaptive and helpful habits that put themselves in the ‘driving seat’. You can apply this to you or your young person’s daily life, by making sure that you are sending stars (positive communication) and it can be as simple as greeting someone with a smile, expressing gratitude by saying thanks or showing your appreciation.

Decide to Grow: These tools help young people identify how they can respond to what life may deal them. We support young people to safely make small acts of bravery where they push themselves from their comfort zone to give them the real-life experience that challenges their beliefs. This develops a sense of self-efficacy that enables them to take slightly bigger steps from then on, facing their fears in a healthy way. They also learn the difference in knowing what they can actually change, and what they just need to change their reactions to. To apply this in your own life, make a list of things that you would like to accomplish that are just outside of your comfort zone and start to take small steps to help you achieve them.

Can you give us just one example of how these tips and tricks can help change a life?

One of our graduates, Peter, has an anxiety disorder that had severely impacted his quality of life.

Peter’s self-image was completely determined by his academic performance, where nothing less than an “A” grade was good enough. He felt he had no control over the many panic attacks he was experiencing and had disclosed suicidal thoughts.

Peter says the Youth Opportunities program gave him his life back and, more than a year later, he continues to practice the tools to challenge his self-talk and manage his perfectionism which has helped him better manage his anxiety.

The Marshman Foundation is the research, development and evaluation arm of Youth Opportunities, ensuring the programs and services we develop to support young people remain world-class.

Nicky has a background in psychology with many years’ experience in the development, delivery and management of evidence-based programs. Her areas of expertise include defining program outcomes and theories of change, as well as maintaining the currency and fidelity of programs. 

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