While mental health talks among adults have noticeably increased in the last several years, there is an increasing need to rope teens into these conversations. It is easily assumed that children and adolescents do not go through devastating issues since they have fewer responsibilities than adults.
Yet these same people experience panic attacks, depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, assault, self-loathe, low self-esteem, oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar, schizophrenia, among others.
What kind of mental health support do teens need from their parents, guardians and teachers?
According to Dr. Angela Migowa, a Consultant General Paediatrician and Paediatric Rheumatologist at Aga Khan University Hospital, teens and younger children need caregivers who look after their own mental health.
The said caregivers will then be able to hear them out as well as model what good mental health looks like to them. Children also need a healthy home environment filled with positive values. They also need caregivers who nurture their physical, social, emotional and cognitive well-being.
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“Feeling loved and appreciated is a human desire. A child needs to also experience open communication with their parents and guardians. Nature abhors a vacuum. When parents and guardians are absent, a vacuum is created. Something will come to fill that vacuum,” states Dr Migowa.
When children receive unconditional love and appreciation from caregivers, Dr Migowa believes that they will not be lured into premature sex, crime, and drug abuse.
“Children are trapped into these vices when ill-intended people come to fill that vacuum when parents and guardians are absent in their lives. They will shower the children with love and appreciation and in return, emotionally blackmail them to do horrible things for them and mess with their mental wellbeing,” explains Dr. Migowa.
What else contributes to mental health illnesses?
“Like most diseases, this is a genetic risk. A certain thing within a teen’s environment can tip them over to develop mental health problems,” says Dr. Migowa.
A teen’s resilience, family dynamics, and socio-cultural contexts play a big role here. Dr. Migowa believes that an optimistic and resilient child will be able to cope with life’s challenges without it necessarily leading to a mental health issue. Having involved caregivers and being brought up in a peaceful and safe environment reduces the risk of mental health issues.
“If a child is raised in a home with healthy methods to deal with challenges, they are more likely to have good mental health. If a child is raised in an environment where they witness crimes, they are more likely to develop anxiety,” states Dr. Migowa.
Dr. Migowa adds that lack of enough rest due to schooling has contributed to increasing panic attack incidents among children and teens.
Parents and guardians can assess mental health concerns in their children and adolescents by observing them.
“If there is a change of behaviour, say a child who is usually talkative suddenly becomes quiet, that should raise an alarm. The caregiver can then ask them if in the last few days they have been interested in the things they would normally enjoy, and whether they are sad or happy. If open communication was established, then parents and guardians will know what is really going on with their teens,” says Dr. Migowa.
How can a teen take care of their mental health?
Dr. Migowa further says that the four main pillars of mental health (social, emotional, physical, and cognitive) are interdependent. She advises teens to practice physical habits that promote good mental health by eating nutritious foods, getting adequate sleep, and exercising.
To nurture their emotional wellbeing, teens are encouraged to strengthen their sense of self-awareness, have a mentor, and practice emotional self-regulation through embodying patience, perseverance and tolerance.
For example, if a teen wants to be good in, say, Physics, they can learn to be more tolerant of their teachers. They can also practice emotional intelligence by avoiding projecting their issues onto other people, and moral imagination by empathizing with those they disagree with.
“For social and cognitive wellness, a teen needs to entertain themselves with uplifting materials such as good books, music, and hobbies, and meaningful friendships,” Dr. Migowa advises. Teens can also join school clubs, form their own support groups, or initiate peer counselling.
According to Dr. Migowa, a child or adolescent with a good mental health makes sound decisions appropriate for their age. They exhibit optimism, gratitude and courage, and they are willing to take calculated risks given their age and developmental stage. They are also well-groomed.
Article written by Anjellah Owino.