How to help teens and young adults address mental health issues
What exactly is mental health and why is so important? Mental health has to do with our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It impacts how we think, feel and act. Primarily, it determines how we handle stress, choices and social interactions.
When we talk of mental health, we generally talk of mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
It definitely makes sense to be aware and concerned about our mental health. Of course, there is a lot more awareness about mental health issues these days and it's generally not considered a stigma anymore. But the fact remains that people are still hesitant to reach out for help for fear of being stigmatized.
However, the sad fact is that suicide accounts for more than 800,000 deaths globally every year. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death globally for youth in the age bracket of 15-29.
A large percentage of our youth, both teens and young adults across the globe, are besieged by mental health issues. Anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD and depression are fairly common these days. In fact, 1 in every 200 children has OCD. The World Health Organization has listed OCD as one of the top 10 most handicapping situations which leads to decreased quality of life.
What is OCD?
OCD is a common chronic disorder which is characterized by uncontrollable, recurrent, intrusive thoughts or obsessions along with and repetitive, compulsive behavior. People with OCD feel a high level of distress and anxiety due to their symptoms. Basically, people with OCD are caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Treatment generally includes medication and psychotherapy.
Some common obsessions include the fear of germs and dirt; fear of losing control and fear of causing harm to self or others. Some of the common compulsions displayed include bathing or washing hands over and over again and repeatedly checking things.
The thing with OCD is that it can affect anyone. But at least 50 per cent of the adults with OCD start displaying symptoms in childhood and adolescence. While you can't prevent OCD, early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce symptoms and thus ensure a better quality of life.
How can people with OCD help themselves?
It's important to ensure they get good quality sleep, exercise regularly and have a healthy diet. It is also important for them to be in close contact with loved ones who support and understand OCD. Besides the usual line of treatment, they will definitely benefit from practices such as meditation, yoga and massage.
Depression in young adults
Then there is depression, often also called a silent killer. It is one of the most common reasons behind suicide. In young children, the symptoms of depression include sadness, irritability, worry, aches and pains. Children may refuse to go to school and are likely to be underweight.
In teens, the symptoms also include feelings of worthlessness, anger, poor performance in school, feeling misunderstood and highly sensitive. Teenagers going through depression are also likely to be doing recreational drugs, drinking alcohol, sleeping or eating too much, causing self-harm, shunning social interaction and gradually losing interest in normal activities.
So how does one help someone suffering from depression?
It's most important to take it seriously and to be able to be open about it. Acceptance and understanding are important. So is educating yourself about the disease. As a society, we need to provide more resources and make them easily accessible to those suffering.
If you have a friend or loved one who is suffering from depression, you need to support them patiently. Most importantly, don't wait to get help. Since depression won't cure on its own, it is imperative that you reach out to a doctor preferably for expert help. Do remember, it is one of the main reasons behind most suicides.
While the causes of mental illness can be many, including factors like genetics, physical illness or injury or traumatic life experiences, the treatment isn't always just medication. It also includes therapy, yoga, meditation and other holistic treatment.
However, as a preventive measure, if trauma is addressed, especially in adolescents and children, it is possible to prevent certain mental disorders. It also calls for all countries to invest in better health facilities, especially mental health. It also calls for more awareness and easy access to facilities.
Some simple ways to take care of your mental health
Value yourself - It means to respect your life and be kind to yourself. Stop belittling yourself. You matter, and therefore, allot some time during the day to devote to yourself.
Take care of your body - Feed yourself nutritious food, drink plenty of water, exercise and get sufficient sleep. Avoid excesses.
Surround yourself with positive people - Have a good support system. Family, friends and social connections go a long way in contributing to mental health.
Learn to deal with stress and disappointments - Need to develop good coping skills. Tai chi, yoga, journaling are good ways to channel that inner calm. However, meditation, deep breathing and relaxation exercises can dynamically improve the state of mind. Prayer is another much undervalued tool which can help you to transform your mental state and feel calm.
Volunteer - Pick up a cause and volunteer time to help someone. There is a lot of joy and sense of purpose that one can derive from helping another.
Hobbies or passions - Indulge in your passion, be it gardening, painting, doodling, cooking, playing with your pet, singing, dancing, walking or trekking. Just do it.
Set realistic goals - While we all need goals in life, especially young people, it's very important to have realistic targets. Goals should not be unattainable and yet should leave room for you to grow and strive to achieve something.
Avoid alcohol and drugs - They will not help you to solve any problem but will only aggravate and create fresh problems.
Reach out for help - It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. So reach out, to friends, family, teachers.
How can you help yourself with foods and your lifestyle habits?
- Quit dairy, sugar, refined carbohydrates, colas, empty sugary foods
- Avoid foods with additives
- Minimize alcohol
- Minimize coffee known to push anxiety levels
- Include a whole grain like brown rice or millets in 2 meals
- Start breakfast with a whole grain
- Focus on good quality protein
- Eat home-cooked meals
- Get adequate sleep
- Maintain regularity in meals