Adolescence is a time which isn’t just marked by changes in physical appearances but also by mental turmoil- about friends, social life, academic stress, the constant need to fit in and be liked and the battle of independence with parents and family members. Psychological distress is quite evident in adolescence since often, the speed of changes in the individual’s life doesn’t match the change in their mental and emotional maturity. Mental illnesses such as eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety and stress are highly prevalent and statistically most likely to be diagnosed during adolescence. 1 in every 5 teenagers around the world suffers from some form of mental health disorder. An adolescent is said to be optimally mentally healthy when he or she is happy, has a good social circle, a good relationship with family members and most importantly, knows how to handle stress. This can easily be achieved if some important things are kept in mind by the individual themselves and the people around them.
Some of these are discussed below:
- Stress- Stress management is an integral part of this transitional phase. Coping with the constant and chronic changes and increasing stress is a skill which every healthy teen should acquire. This can be achieved by informing the individual of the various ways in which they can vent out their thoughts and frustrations. This communication can be facilitated by parents, teachers, school counsellors or even friends. The important point here is finding a way to handle stress, be in via communication, physical activities, keeping journals or simply finding a relaxing hobby.
- Healthy Lifestyle- Being healthy and active is a very important part of staying fit mentally. Studies have shown that physical stress, that is physical activity, can significantly reduce the presence of mental stress. It is a beautifully simplistic relationship that can really help when it comes to mental health in adolescents. Laborious activities such as running, kickboxing, various kinds of sports or even just going to the gym have shown significant associations with the reduction of stress. Along with this, eating a healthy, balanced diet is extremely important; fad diets should be strongly discouraged.
- Communication- Open communication with parents or a trusted adult is particularly helpful and can go on to make or break the threshold of stress that a teenager can handle. Parents need to tread the line of friend and authority figure very carefully. Teens who talk to their parents about their lives openly are much less likely to suffer from stress-related disorders and much more likely to seek help in case of any other mental health problems. Parents should make extra efforts to connect with their teenage kids, encourage them to talk about their lives, appreciate the efforts that the child is making and treat them as “almost adults” rather than “still babies”. This instils a level of confidence in the child which goes a long way in personality development. Communication amongst peers should be encouraged and if need be, contacting and getting help from a therapist should be supported.
- Awareness- The importance of awareness about mental health cannot be stressed enough. Teens should know the various kinds of mental illnesses they are susceptible to and should know how and why they need to seek help in case they feel like they are not doing well. They need to be encouraged to talk about their mental health and discuss their feelings, strengths, failures. They need to be informed that mental illnesses are just like any other physiological illnesses that can happen to anyone at any time and they must not blame themselves if they develop symptoms of a mental illness. Awareness can also be in the form of a warning; stress on the ill effects of drugs and alcohol. Both can be major risk factors for developing serious psychological disorders that could otherwise be easily avoided. The ill effects of drugs and alcohol on teens are widespread and quite intense. It is also easier to develop dependence during this age and adapt it as a maladaptive coping mechanism.
Along with following all these pointers, it is very important to realize that mental illnesses are a result of complex interactions of neurons and hormones, with environmental factors merely acting as triggers. The need of the hour along with promoting mental health and well-being is to destigmatize the actual presence of mental illness and to remove the aspect of shame and self-blame associated with it. Therapists and counsellors should be familiar faces around schools and colleges and should be easily accessible to students. Students should also be encouraged to form support groups for different mental health difficulties and disorders and have open and honest discussions about their mental well-being. Adolescents in our country are not well equipped to accept or deal with mental illnesses and it is time to change that!