I was reading an article a couple of days ago about the prevalence of mental health issues in adolescents. What struck me, and deeply saddened me, was the statistic that of all visits to health professionals by 13 – 21 year old people, almost 40% of them were for depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. And these are the kids who are actually seeking help… the number could rise significantly if we include unsupported, financially stressed and struggling kids and families.
A study by the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research showed that 28% of people in the 19 – 21 year old age bracket had had experience with mental illness at some point. The other disturbing fact was that their research found that these kids had major concerns about the stigma surrounding mental health issues and significantly overestimated the reaction of others. These concerns often prevented them from seeking help. We need to make it easier for our kids to get the help they need and talking openly and compassionately about mental illness is a good start.
At a time in your life when you are accutely aware of how you are perceived, when you are trying to work out who you are, when you are flooded with unattainable, unrealistic and often negative images it is little wonder that kids can feel reluctant to seek help or even to let someone know that they are struggling.
So what are the signs to look out for :
Changed behaviour – problems at school, lack of or excessive socialisation
Loss of interest in hobbies or sport
Anger / Agitation
Sadness, hopelessness, tearfulness
Feelings of guilt
Lack of self worth
Difficulty making decisions
Excessive or inappropriate worrying
Loss of appetite or weight changes
It’s worth talking to your kids about these issues even if you feel that they are ok. When you look at the statistics and consider that nearly 1 in 3 kids is affected at some point it is highly likely that you have a child or know a child who may be struggling.
Early intervention is key to addressing the problem before it can take hold and take over. Seeing a naturopath is a great start – at NaturoCath Naturopathy you will find a compassionate listener and herbal and nutritional support. Assessments can be done to check for potential physiological problems which may be driving the illness and a plan can be formulated to provide support such as counselling, advice and co-ordination of care with schools, GP’s or psychologists. This approach provides a multi faceted, supportive structure and reduces the likelihood of progression to antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.
If medications are already being used, or if it is necessary to go on to medications we can work co-operatively with GP’s and psychiatrists to ensure that the medications are used in the most effective way and are supported by diet and optimal nutrition.
Talk to your kids, let them know you care enough to have the conversation no matter how hard it is. Help them develop resilience and self worth. Most importantly, take the time to listen. It may be the most important conversation of your life.