Support them! - Clinical psychologist says adolescents need guidance
March 18-24 is being recognised as Global Teen Health Week, aimed at raising the profile of adolescent health. Below is an article from the Paediatrics Association of Jamaica.
'Nobody understands me'. 'My parents are stressing me out'. 'I hate school'. 'I'm so ugly, I'm so fat'. 'Why can't I get more likes'. 'I just want to stay home by myself'. 'No, I need to go out with my friends'. 'I'm depressed'. 'I'm a failure'.
The adolescent stage can be one of great turmoil and emotional struggles. The adolescent brain is still developing, significant physical and chemical changes are taking place and the outcome of this complex mix of processes may become overwhelming. This may result in a whole host of mental-health concerns, especially if the adolescents are not adequately supported. These challenges may include acting out and mood instability, but may develop into anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders. These behavioural and mental-health concerns are becoming more common within our adolescent population, right here in Jamaica!
Mental health practitioners have seen where adolescents commonly feel misunderstood and unsupported. On the other hand, their parents are busy and regularly feel stressed, burnt-out and overwhelmed. What is clear is that both groups are under-informed and need to be further educated. For example, most adolescents and parents and caregivers would not know that depression is the third leading cause of disability among adolescents. Additionally, many do not know that mental-health concerns can be prevented, managed and minimised through social support and physical activity.
The quality of the parent-child relationship is one of the most powerful determinants of resilience in young people. Too often parents believe that their role is to enforce discipline, provide financial support, make rules and ensure that their children do well in school. While these roles have their place, an important part of the parent-child relationship is to provide support, not just financially but psychologically and emotionally. An important aspect of this process is listening and trying to understand the adolescent's perspective, as strange or illogical as it may seem at first. The more parents try to understand their adolescent is the more they will understand, and the more their teenagers will realise they genuinely care. Teenagers notice and respond to effort and understanding. Parents and caregivers - remember you were a teenager once; find out their interests, play video games with them, visit their rooms and have friendly conversations, watch TV together and reward their successes.
Adolescents - you also have a role to play. Peer relationships are extremely important. High-quality friendships have also been found to protect against mental-health challenges in adolescence. It is important that you think about the person you genuinely want to be and where you want to go in life and then choose friends that will support you along that journey. Easier said than done, but certainly worth a try!
Experts have found that less than 150 minutes (three and a half hours) of physical activity peer week is associated with an increased risk for depression.
Our world has become increasingly busy and fast-paced, and we spend most of our day looking at screens, doing schoolwork, meeting work obligations, travelling and planning. Children and adolescents no longer play outside and there seems to not be enough hours in the day for physical activity. However, increased physical activity is associated with: increased levels of endorphins and serotonin which each improve mood and life-satisfaction, decreased stress reactivity, a greater sense of personal control and social reinforcement. Better general health, fitness, attractiveness and strength, of course, are added bonuses.
Let's give our adolescents the support they deserve, let's promote healthy friendships, let's get active and reduce the impact of mental-health challenges on this vulnerable group.
- Andre Bateman is a clinical psychologist.