If someone asked you what the best stage in our lives was, what would you say? Many of us believe that the best stage in life is childhood or adolescence. Generally speaking, children and adolescents have fewer responsibilities, pressures, and worries. This of course is not the case for everyone, many children face hardships or childhood trauma which may result in mental health struggles later in life. In addition to this, many teenagers now are facing more and more pressure with over half of all teens reporting being told they “seem stressed” on at least a monthly basis. With the high competition to get into college and find a financially stable career, many teenagers these days are feeling pressure all around them. From social pressures to financial pressure, to ‘figuring out what you’re going to do with the rest of your life’ pressures, it’s no wonder many teens are feeling overwhelmed. But where is the line drawn between a typical amount of teenage stress or angst and teen mental health concerns?
Mental Health Struggles on the Rise
In recent years, taking care of your mental health has increasingly become a more popular topic, and this is for good reason. The National Institute of Mental Health reports roughly 49.5 percent of adolescents (ages 13-18) having experienced any kind of mental illness. Out of all adolescents who have experienced a mental disorder, 22.2 percent had severe impairment due to mental illness. Severe impairment occurs in serious cases and results in serious functional impairment interfering with the individuals’ everyday lives and ability to participate in activities.
For anyone struggling with a mental health disorder, it is important that they seek help for their mental health. Mental illness is on the rise in adolescents and young adults, which is why it is so important that we place our focus and have discussions surrounding mental health in youth. Unresolved mental health issues early in life can result in life-long consequences.
Social Media and Mental Health
While mental health is prevalent across all age groups, there may be some factors that explain the higher prevalence of mental illness in the younger populations. One of the most common culprits that lead to increased mental health struggles is social media. Social media has become the newest and most popular form of networking, most commonly used by teens and young adults. The ability to connect and interact with others no matter how far away with the simple click of a button has no doubt earned social media its popularity, and while this can be beneficial in some ways, science has found a link between social media and poor mental health. Social media has been shown to trigger negative emotions that can contribute to symptoms of depression, anxiety as well as feelings of loneliness or isolation. A large-scale study found that occasional social media users were 3 times less likely to experience symptoms of depression than their frequently active peers. If you’re worried about the potential effects social media could be having on your teen, it can be helpful to educate your child about the harms of too much social media. Encourage your teen to spend more time engaging in healthier activities and hobbies such as spending time with friends and family, sports or exercise, reading, playing an instrument and much more. Experts suggest spending no more than 30 minutes per day on social media sites. Certain apps allow you to monitor and potentially even limit your teens daily screen time. Be sure to talk with your child ahead of time about your decision to monitor and/or limit their social media time, and why it is important that you do so. It may be helpful to negotiate with your teen what is allowed as far as screen time and social media usage but try to make an ultimate goal of half an hour per day in order to improve mental health.
Teen Angst vs. Mental Health Challenge
You may be familiar with the term “teenage angst” from your favorite coming-of-age TV shows. But where is the boundary drawn between typical teenage health and a concerning mental health challenge? There is certainly a difference between the two, and while angst during adolescence can potentially turn into something more serious, teenage angst itself is not a mental health concern. Teenage angst refers to the emotional turmoil often associated with growing up. The teenage years typically come with a lot of change and development, pressures from external sources such as school, sports, or relationships can feel huge at this time as teens are just starting to learn how to navigate the world more independently. Teenage angst usually occurs during stressful situations, big or small, and subsides shortly after the stressor has passed. Mental illness involves emotional or behavioral changes often associated with distress and difficulty functioning at your best ability. A key indicator of mental illness is duration. If symptoms tend to subside quickly or come and go with stressful events, your teen is more likely suffering from angst than a mental illness. If symptoms of mental illness persist for weeks at a time or longer it is possible that your teen is dealing with serious mental health concerns and action should be taken as soon as possible. Some common symptoms of mental illness that can often be mistaken as angst include:
- Bouts of anger or irritability
- Extreme mood swings
- Low energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling sad or down
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Drug or alcohol use
These warning signs may or may not indicate a mental health disorder, however, if you do begin to notice several of these warning signs in your child, particularly for extended periods of time, seeking professional help may be necessary. Multiple forms of therapy have been proven effective in improving mental health. In addition, there are many readily available forms of medication for mental health treatment for those with serious or persistent mental health struggles. Always be sure to make yourself aware of the side effects and potential risks of each medication before deciding to take the new medication.
Ways to Support and Improve Mental Health
In addition to medication or traditional therapy, there are several mechanisms you as a parent can support and improve mental wellbeing that doesn’t involve a doctor. Oftentimes our habits and lifestyle choices affect our mental wellbeing, certain habits such as smoking can trigger or worsen symptoms of a mental health disorder. Additionally, there are many lifestyle tips and habits that have been shown to have improvements in mental health. The following are natural mechanisms you can use in conjunction with or as an alternative to medication:
- Make sleep a priority. Sleep and mental health have shown close connections. Lack of sleep can negatively impact your brain and its ability to process information. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental health struggles. Try to set a regular sleep schedule, aiming for between 7 and 9 hours per night. Try not to go over or under this mark as oversleeping can lead to health complications similarly to undersleeping. A tip to good sleep is to sleep in a cool environment, temperatures ranging in the mid-60s are ideal for a good night’s sleep.
- Build self-confidence. Poor self-esteem has been linked to poor mental health. Participating in things we enjoy or are good at is a great way to build self-esteem. From there work your way up to more daunting tasks or activities, trying new things can help build confidence. In addition, look to celebrate your accomplishments rather than bring yourself down because you aren’t perfect.
- Diet and lifestyle. Arguably one of the most important factors for improving mental health is by making physical health a priority. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other key nutrients supports brain health and is linked to better mental health outcomes. In addition, make it a point to avoid processed sugars and foods as they have been shown to exacerbate mental health struggles. Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and smoking can all be helpful in improving mental health in the long run.
- Get regular physical activity. Exercise has been proven to have immense benefits, both on mental and physical health. Physical activity releases endorphins which help to boost mood and energy levels. When practiced regularly, exercise can be used as an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety treatment and be just as effective for some people. Additionally, exercise can be a great mechanism to cope with stress or depression as well as improve overall self-esteem and body image.
- Show gratitude and appreciation. One of the best ways you can boost your mood and the mood of others is by showing your appreciation for them. A simple gesture, small gift, or simply just telling someone your positive thoughts about them can go a long way. Show gratitude for others, the little things in life, and even yourself. Keeping a gratitude journal is a good way to practice gratitude on a regular basis and helps to rewire your brain to focus on the positive!
blueFire Wilderness Can Help
blueFire Wilderness Therapy is an adventure-based therapeutic treatment for adolescents ages 11-17 who are struggling with depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors. Our program removes students from the distractions or stressors of their current environment and places them in the tranquil healing environment of the great outdoors. Our students are given the opportunity to focus on their individual healing in a safe and supportive environment. BlueFire Wilderness gives students the tools and skills they need to heal from unhealthy behaviors, and live happy, healthy adult lives.
For more information about our program at blueFire Wilderness, please contact us over the phone at 1-844-413-1999. We can help your family and teen mental health today!