The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." There is no health without mental health.
Mental health disorders are not limited to adults in spite of the common assumption. Research has shown that mental health illness is becoming more frequent among teenagers globally with one in five teens between the age of 12- 18 years being diagnosed with at least one disorder. Half of the chronic mental health cases develop before the age of 18. Suicide has proved to be the second cause of death among adolescents. Sadly, teenage mental health cases are usually neglected and treated as ordinary mood swings that will resolve with time.
Some of the leading causes of mental health issues among teens include societal pressure to excel academically. With high parental and societal expectations to succeed in examinations, teenagers have become susceptible to low self esteem and depression in the event that they perform dismally. According to a news report The Standard, two Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) students took their lives in 2019 due to poor performance in the national exams. Our children ought to be mentored that their future is not solely dependent on how they perform academically.
Research also shows that there is a strong relationship between social media use and mental health issues among teenagers. Teens use social media to connect with friends, family and the global community at large. However, excessive use has its risks. A study by the National Library of Medicine shows that use of social media has contributed to mental health issues with anxiety and depression being one of the leading effects.
There are however interventions that can be applied to help support the mental health of our children. Encouraging them to express their feelings, having conversations on how their day has been and reminding them that you as a care giver are there for them will help them open up and share more. Our teenagers need a listening ear and whenever you have an issue with your teen, take your time to listen to his or her views and sort it out the calmly. Be sincere with them and show them how you resolve your individual problems. This way, they can learn from you and recognise that what they are feeling is normal. Work together on setting up attainable targets and even daily routine. Adolescence comes with a sense of independence and therefore it is important to give them space and time whenever they need it. This will propel them to learn how to be their own.
Finally, remember to care for your mental health as well. Start by caring for yourself before you care for a child. As a parent it is normal to neglect oneself and focus on others. Find a few friends that you can share your feelings with.
Mr Macharia is the General Manager Healthcare-Minet Kenya