Mental Health: a focus on youth

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Mental health awareness is a time to turn the focus on the many aspects of mental illness and what to look out for in order to prevent it, especially as it occurs in young people.

Mental health issues can manifest acutely, which is described as “short-term” or episodic issues, or chronically, meaning long-term or constant recurring suffering. “A person who is experiencing an acute episode will work through the difficult time and be able to continue with their lives. A person who is experiencing chronic mental illness, will often require additional interventions and need to develop new coping skills in order to thrive.”

According to Psychology Today, “The past few years have witnessed an escalation in teen suicides and anxious, depressed, and suicidal students crowding college counseling centers (Center for Collegiate Mental Health).”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 -24, as well as college age young people This means, according to the PRP, that more of youth die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, flu, stroke, pneumonia, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED!


Why the rise in mental health issues?

Many factors could contribute to the rise and severity of mental illness, from diet to lifestyles that lack in-person social interaction.

Research shows that excessive new media screen time is a likely correlated. Surveys have shown that teens who spend more time on screens are more likely to suffer depression and suicidal ideation than those who spent time on non-screen activities, such as sports, reading, or social events.

Whatever the case, mental health issues should never be ignored, especially when intervention can happen early on—particularly with young people—potentially preventing chronic, on-going suffering later in life.

What to look out for

Mental illness is the inability to cope with life demands and routines due to disturbances in thoughts, behavior, or feelings.

There are signs that should raise your antenna, whether you’re a parent, family member, friend, or even doing self-evaluation.

In Adults, Young Adults and Adolescents:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Strange thoughts (delusions)
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance use 

In Older Children and Pre-Adolescents:

  • Substance use
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Changes in ability to manage responsibilities – at home and/or at school
  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
  • Intense fear
  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger

In Younger Children:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

How to cope

Work on changing your diet. We know now that a poor diet, especially sugar and trans-fats (packaged, fast foods, and processed foods), wreak havoc on your gut, which translates into poor mental health.

Increase your consumption of green leafy vegetables, fruits, fish (such as wild caught salmon), and especially probiotic foods like kimchi and Sauer kraut. These foods help your gut bacterium, which is shown to help mental function since the gut is the “first brain.”

Food should be the first line of defense (or offense if you’re the preventative maintenance type), and since you have to have food every day, several times a day, make sure you’re putting in the right stuff to put you or keep you in a good mood.

Get social. Go outside, hang out with people you like, play games, be a kid! “Research has pointed to three areas where play helps children develop emotionally: building self-confidence and esteem; experimenting with various emotions; and releasing emotions from trauma.”

The Atlantic details both nutritional and psychological benefits of eating together: “Sadly, Americans rarely eat together anymore. In fact, the average American eats one in every five meals in her car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week.”

Seek help. Asking for help does not make you weak. A variety of resources are available for getting help with your mental health. Many communities have mental health support services and mental health support groups that can help you.

Start with your own primary doctor. If they are not equipped to help, they should be able to point you in the right direction, which may include a mental health professional, employee or student assistance programs, or even religious leaders can lend support.

Visit Healthy Place for a list of mental health support groups to find out where to visit or call in your area. Talk-therapy is more convenient than ever, with services such as TalkSpace and BetterHelp, where all you need is your phone or computer.

Mental Health America offers incredible insight into mental health and offers ways for you seek help. There you can find interactive tools and worksheets that can help lead you to healthier mental lifestyle.

If you are finding it difficult to deal with daily life routines and find yourself having overwhelming negative thoughts, pain, sadness, and feelings of worthlessness that just won’t go away, remember that help does exist.

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