Being an adult can give you some perspective that can be pretty hard to come by as a young person. When you’re in that phase of adolescence where you’re trying to navigate your own self identity and figure out who you are, there are plenty of obstacles to trip up on along that journey. Firstly, while you’re likely feeling at your most insecure and vulnerable, there is the fierce desire to fit in and be accepted. Throw a raging mix of hormones and brain development into the mix and you have a real recipe for mental turmoil. This is the case even when a young person’s context is relatively calm and ordered. If exposure to poverty, abuse or violence occurs at a young age then the threat of mental illness increases exponentially.
Of course, this is nothing new. Growing up has never been a seamless process and many of the challenges of youth help to establish the resilience required to face other turmoil as you move through life. However, increased exposure to the intense identity pressures created by social media, something previous generations have not grown up with, places today’s youth at a particularly high risk of developing a mental health disorder. Ideally, adolescence is the time to be developing good social and emotional habits that help to sustain a strong mental wellbeing. Establishing healthy sleep patterns, exercising regularly, building problem solving and coping mechanisms and learning to manage emotions are all being developed and hopefully supported through healthy communal relationships within the family, school and other wider groups. However, statistics show that mental health remains one of the most pervasive problems faced by young people. The World Health Organisation states that, globally, one in seven 10-19 year olds experiences a mental disorder. Couple this with the fact that about three-quarters of common mental health problems begin to emerge before the age of 25 and you start to see the dire need to support strong mental health in young people to help ensure strong mental health for people later in life.
Now, we are all familiar with the stereotype of the angsty teen. Terse, mostly communicates in grunts or eye-rolls. Moods are likely to swing on a dime, particularly when asked to do something. As frustrating as this might be, it’s certainly not grounds for concern. However, there are certain indicators that it is good to be conscious of, either as a parent or as a more self-aware young person:
Becoming socially withdrawn
This doesn’t necessarily mean not wanting to hang out with parents. This goes far further, into avoiding what would otherwise be normal interactions with their peers. It’s understood that a sense of belonging is a basic human need so socially withdrawing poses all sorts of threats to a young person's mental health. Research highlights that socially withdrawn youth are more likely than their peers to have lower academic achievement, poorer motivation and self-esteem, higher levels of depression, social anxiety and even suicidal ideation. Keeping socially connected is absolutely critical to maintaining strong mental health.
Dramatic changes in weight and or eating habits
This one is a huge red flag. Eating disorders are a really serious mental illness and are often used as a coping mechanism to manage stress by creating some level of control in a person’s life. Sadly, the prevalence of eating disorders in young people continues to rise, likely driven by increased social pressures relating to appearance. There are lots of warning signs to be conscious of but here are some of the most significant:
- Major shifts in weight, either loss or gain.
- Regular comments about dissatisfaction.
- Fear of certain foods or social settings involving eating.
- Deceptive approaches to food, through either avoiding eating or eating secretively.
- Creating rituals around eating that need to be strictly adhered to.
- Cutting out particular foods.
If you’ve identified any of these signs in yourself or a young person you care for then there are loads of ways that you can help to support them in strengthening their mental health. Here are just a few suggestions of practical ways that have been found to foster good mental health:
Make sure that you’ve got interests and activities that allow you to express yourself and your emotions. This could be physical, in the form of dance or sport but it could also involve journaling or playing an instrument. Having something that you enjoy doing is crucial and to lean into it. Setting small goals in these areas is a great way to maintain motivation and keep moving forward. The worst thing you can do is to avoid the things that make you feel happy. If you are struggling with energy then B vitamin supplements from Australia pharmacy may help you to play longer and more regularly.
All this exercise and socialising will likely take it out of you. That’s great because good sleep is significantly tied to good mental health. Issues with sleeping have a flow on effect, raising the likelihood of anxiety, depression and a whole raft of other mental disorders. Supplements high in magnesium and melatonin, available from Australia pharmacy, can be particularly calming, helping to promote sleep. Maintaining good sleep hygiene will go a long way to improving your mental state.
Despite all of the challenges faced by adolescents, young adulthood does not need to be a phase that is merely suffered through. By being aware of threats to our mental health we can put strategies in place to ensure the habits that foster good mental health really take root in this pivotal stage of life.
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