Penguins, Youth and Mental Health

Youth Coping Mental Health

We are currently living in an ever-changing world; one that six months ago none of us could have imagined. A life without concerts, parties, being unable to see our close friends and extended family members. Helping youth to understand this can be extremely overwhelming, but it’s key that we help youth (and ourselves) to foster support and maintain connections during and after this period of time.

Donna Gaffney & Mary Galbraith (2001) partnered together to explore the survival skills of the Emperor penguins in Antarctica and were able to generalize this to the overall human experience. The emperor penguins travel in circles in order to maintain body warmth and survive the harsh elements where they live. The penguins who are most mature face the winds and winter weather on the outside of the circle to protect the younger penguins who are kept in the center. The mature penguins will rotate in to restore their body temperature and other adults will rotate to the outer edge.

This method ensures that penguins, both young and old, are all protected and able to maintain their body temperature; always moving the coldest penguins to the middle. At this point you may be asking, “…well, what does this have to do with me?”

In times of grief or in the aftermath of a trauma, youth are seeking some type of comfort, stability and structure. Youth will often turn to one another for support, but it’s important that adults are able to provide them with appropriate guidance. In order to do this we need to be able to self-regulate and recognize the times we may need more support to establish our own sense of safety.

In moving forward through this weekend keep in mind that it’s okay to show your times of vulnerability to seek the support that you need and deserve. Surround yourself with people who can support you and rotate them to the inside of the circle when you can support them. Treat yourself and others with compassion…always allowing yourself a space to feel the cold, taking care of those most vulnerable and embracing the warmth of others.