What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is the value placed on a person, by that person. The term self-worth means the same and the terms are interchangeable. Although self-esteem is self-determined, that determination is significantly influenced by other people - notably those who are most important to the individual concerned.
Self-esteem should not be confused with terms such as self-confidence which are generally performance related and do not reflect any sense of innate worth.
Why the focus on self-esteem?
Researched causes of low self-esteem clearly illustrate that young people are prime candidates to have an embedded sense of low self-esteem.
Depression, anxiety, violence, truanting, self-harm, bullying, eating disorders, anger issues, social withdrawal, school refusal, drugs & alcohol abuse, internet addiction, anti-school and other serious issues - many of which will automatically be labelled "mental health issues" - can all have as their root cause a sense of low self-esteem.
By identifying and resolving low self-esteem issues in a young person's life the young person can eliminate self-destructive behaviours and emotions and look forward to a fulfilling life in which the young person's true potential is fully realised.
Oxford University research established a direct link between low self-esteem and self-destructive behaviours and concluded: "If there were ever a magic bullet that could transform a young person’s life it would be a pill coated with self-esteem. This powerful yet fragile quality is the key to the future for a teenager.”
Life events today for a young person can be sufficiently traumatising that they lead to a seriously damaged sense of self-esteem, which in turn leads to the emotions and behaviour patterns that can often be mistaken for mental health issues.
“Children are increasingly being diagnosed with mental health problems when they are simply experiencing normal emotions in reaction to life events.”
Dr Lorraine Johnstone. Chartered Member, British Psychological Society. Oct 2019
The danger of labelling young people's emotional reactions to life events as mental health issues is that mental health specialists (CAMHS) are overwhelmed with referrals of young people who they cannot help because the young people do not have a mental health issue. Young people - whether seen or not by a mental health specialist - may spend a lot of time having a symptom, such as depression or self-harm, being treated whilst the cause, low self-esteem, is never recognised or addressed. The tragic consequence is that the young person never receives the actual help they need.
At SEED - whilst recognising that many young people do experience mental health issues requiring specialist treatment - the goal is to reach those significant numbers of young people who are, in reality, struggling with the completely resolvable issue of low self-esteem.
The danger of not understanding self-esteem
The scale of the problem
The UK based teenage mental health charity STEM4 reported that 1 in 6 teenagers in the UK experience behaviour determining low self-esteem. That’s around 750,000 teenagers who are at risk of the behaviours and issues listed above. The NSPCC report that low self-esteem is the second main reason young people called the national charity ChildLine in a 12 months period – with 80,276 calls being made on the issue.
Whilst running a project for the young homeless in London I was seeking to motivate a 19-year old previously homeless girl to consider art college, she was very talented in that field. My efforts stalled when she asked me, "Why should I make an effort - when I don't think I am worth making an effort for?"
The goal of SEED is to equip School staff, Foster Carers, other professionals working with young people and young people themselves to be able to raise the self-esteem of a young person to the point where each one will declare, "I will make an effort - because I am worth it."
The effort required and the areas of life needing that effort will vary for each young person - but with a self-belief rooted in a healthy, balanced self-esteem each young person will be released into a realistic expectation of achieving their full potential, and enjoying a fullfilling, healthy and happy life.