Workplace Wellbeing Academy


A Practical Way to Improve Teen Emotional Health

I have been doing a bit of reading over the last few days and re-visited the excellent BPS Research Digest website. The British Psychological Society employ a team to trawl the most recent research and write about it in a potted form whilst also providing links to the original papers. It’s a bit like reading the abstract at the beginning of a paper to see if it will be of use/interest to you.

A study from 2019 caught my eye in terms of mental health in young people and my long-held view that we should be talking about emotional intelligence from a very early age.

Earlier studies had found that young people who exhibited difficulties in distinguishing between different negative emotions (what it termed low Negative Emotion Differentiation or low NED) were more vulnerable to experiencing depression. This study differed in that it found that low NED was not a predictor of depression over time but that it did predict it following a period of stress.

In their conclusion the authors speculate that “People with difficulties discriminating between and labelling [negative emotions] may fail to orient to the causes and consequences of their emotional responses to stressors, leaving them less prepared to effectively down-regulate [negative emotions].”

Adolescence, for most of us, involves bouncing from one stressful situation to another as we learn our trade as human beings, so it could well be that the stress factor is at play for the vast majority during teenage years and putting those with low NED at more risk.

The paper suggests that one possible solution might be to train young people in what has been called Affect Labelling. This literally means putting your feelings into words. It would help those with low NED to begin to distinguish between emotions via a language hook and to be able to process them more readily, thereby diminishing the intensity of the more negative ones. It is easier to understand a concept once you have the language to describe it.

As such you can start to see techniques like Affect Labelling as the foundation of building emotional intelligence. Emotional problems are often the result of bottling the more negative ones up. Anything that gives us the opportunity to get them on the outside will be more positive.

If we can start to build a culture in which people can articulate their emotions and where we are all prepared to listen to each other, properly, then there will be a real hope of creating a far healthier society.