For One Direction fans, last week didn’t get off to the best start, when reports circulated that the boyband – adored by millions of schoolgirls, tweens, teens (and indeed, grown adults) the world over – were going to split up.
The pop heart-throbs have since reassured fans that they’re actually just going to be ‘taking a break’, but no doubt there have been plenty of distraught tears in households across the land at the news.
It’s easy to dismiss these reactions as ‘silly’, but to a young fan, these emotions are incredibly real.
After all, remember how intense things felt when you were a teenager?
Cast your mind back 20 years to July 1995, when Robbie Williams left the UK’s biggest boyband, Take That – six months later, the remaining four members called it quits and emergency helplines were set up to deal with the fallout among suicidal fans.
And this was before mobile phones and social media had come onto the scene.
Just hours after it was announced Zayn Malik was leaving the world’s current biggest boy band, One Direction, not that long ago, the Twitter hashtag #Cut4Zayn was trending, with users posting graphic images of the injuries young girls were inflicting on their arms in response. Of course, not all 1D fans are going to react in such an extreme way, but it goes to show just how big an impact these things can have, and how difficult some young people will find it to come to terms with.
So what can parents of those in ‘music mourning’ do to help them cope?
Don’t trivialise it
Professor Craig Jackson, head of psychology at Birmingham City University, worked with children and adolescents in the North West in the mid-Nineties and recalls his workload increasing in the weeks immediately after Take That split.
He urges parents and siblings not to trivialise the grief and upset felt by 1D fans: “Music can be extremely powerful to younger people and it should not be casually disregarded by us grown-ups as mere juvenilia.”
While some may just need to sulk or have a good cry, Prof Jackson says grieving fans cope in different ways and warns parents to look out for signs of “self-harm or other destructive and secretive behaviours that may go unnoticed”.
While exact figures aren’t known, as many as 13% of 11-to-16-year-olds are thought to attempt to hurt themselves and it’s becoming far more common: between 2012 and 2014, there was a 70% increase in the number of 10-to-14-year-olds treated by the NHS for self-harm. It’s more common among girls.
“Coping behaviours learned in these formative years can shape the way such people cope with problems in the future,” he says. “We need to exercise patient and watchful waiting of our children, to make sure they cope with their loss in a healthy and productive way, and that they may learn from it.”
Be careful about – but not totally against – social media
Mental health charity Mind says we should all be aware how social media can both help and hinder the healing process.
“Upsetting life events can spark feelings of distress or anxiety and, used in a positive way, social media can play a useful role in a person’s wider support network,” said a spokesperson for the charity.
Report harmful posts
“However, it is vital to recognise the huge danger created by any site or social media trend that promotes self-harm,” Mind has added.
“Self-harm is an incredibly serious problem and should never be trivialised. We urge those using Twitter or other social media sites at this time not to engage with posts that promote harmful behaviour, and to report any activity that causes them concern.”