By Gwen Clancy
Mental Health for Teenagers
Do you often feel sad for longer than two weeks?
How about being afraid without any obvious reasons?
Do you have trouble concentrating in school?
Or how about being worried about things so much that you can no longer do the activities you used to enjoy?
If so, you may have a mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 20% of youth 13-18 are living with a mental illness.
May is Mental Health Month. We are here to start a discussion around mental health. We want to provide you with some coping skills that you can use or pass along.
The first place to start if you do suspect that you or someone you know may have a mental illness is to look for possible symptoms or warning signs. These aren’t foolproof and don’t necessarily guarantee that it’s a mental illness but they’re a good place to start.
Mood Changes: Are there feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last for longer than two weeks? What about severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships?
Intense Feelings: This can look like overwhelming feelings of fear that can’t be identified and can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing or a racing heart. It can also include sudden worries or fears that disrupt daily life.
Behavior Changes: This looks like drastic changes in behavior or personality such as fighting, using weapons or wishing to harm others.
Difficulty Concentrating: This is difficulty focusing while in school which can lead to poor performance.
Physical Symptoms: When a young person is experiencing a mental illness, symptoms can manifest into physical ailments, such as; weight loss, stomachaches or headaches representing sadness or anxiety.
Physical Harm: This includes behaviors such as cutting, burning or other forms of self-injurious behaviors. Remember, these behaviors may not necessarily mean suicidal thoughts but there is more to come about that.
Another set of behaviors exhibited by youth includes self-injury and suicide. Many youth that practice non-suicidal self-injurious (NSSI) behaviors are trying to relieve the pain that s/he are feeling or s/he are attempting to feel something.
Those that do participate in NSSI talk about using it as:
- A coping skill for their anxiety.
- As a way to relieve pressure and stress.
- A means of expression.
- To feel in control over their bodies.
- To communicate their needs.
- To protect others from their emotional needs.
Youth using NSSI as a coping mechanism aren’t trying to commit suicide because some of them might be experiencing suicidal ideations. It is true that many of these youth are just trying to relieve the negative emotions going on inside of them.
It is important to note that this is not meant to minimize suicide, as it is the 3rd leading cause of death among youth 10-24. Rather, it is to point out the differences and try to minimize the stigma of NSSI so youth can feel comfortable reaching out in their time of need.
So if you see these changes in yourself or in someone else, what can you do to help?
If you are the parent of a child exhibiting some symptoms:
- Reach out to a doctor to talk about your concerns.
- Talk with his/her school, friends or others who may be observing the changes as well but may be unsure of what is happening or what to do.
- If it’s one of your friends, try reaching out to the parents or another trusted adult to express your concerns.
If a youth does have a mental illness, they may benefit from seeing a counselor or psychologist who can help determine the severity of the situation. A therapist can also help a youth to develop healthy coping skills.
What are coping skills, you ask?
Let’s start by breaking down coping skills. A youth may use it as a coping skill. This would be a maladaptive or negative coping skill; it’s something that reduces the stress in the moment but can cause a different set of problems for the person.
Besides NSSI, other maladaptive techniques can include substance use, dissociation or avoidance of the problem. Positive coping skills can do the opposite, which is reduce the stress.
Some positive coping skills could be something as simple as:
- Going for a walk.
- Watching an enjoyable movie.
- Reading a book.
- Spending time with a friend.
A counselor may teach a person how to journal or write about feelings, how to become more present and grounded in the moment or how to meditate to block out the outside commotion s/he may be experiencing. Different coping skills work for different people so what works for one youth may not be beneficial to another.
This is a lot of information here but it definitely doesn’t cover everything and may result in even more questions.
One of our goals is to stimulate conversation about mental health in order to reduce or eliminate the stigma that surrounds it.
But who can you talk to?
A great organization, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), that may be a jumping off point to learn more. NAMI can potentially answer questions or provide more of what to look for.
NAMI, which is made up of state organizations, affiliates, and leaders that work in the communities across the country.
Find them at NAMI.org, call their helpline at 800-950-NAMI or text NAMI to 741741 in a crisis situation.
Also, reach out to NRS at 1-800-RUNAWAY to find resources that are more local to you. Because we should all be #IntoMentalHealth.