As early as 2013, students have been identified as a vulnerable group which experiences significant levels of stress, anxiety and depression affecting their mental health (Regehr and Glancy, ‘Interventions to reduce stress in university students: a review and meta-analysis.’)
Psychol Med supports this in its separate study that prior to the pandemic, “one in five college students worldwide experienced one or more diagnosable mental disorders.” The academic years, being an essential element in building a foundation of positive health behaviors for one’s well-being into adulthood, are likewise the years in a person’s life when they are faced with various challenges that expose them to significant risks affecting their health status.
With another impending lockdown brought by the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country and the world, one of these challenges young adults are facing is yet another episode of mental health issues.
So if you have a student in your household, particularly a teen, it will be unwise to disregard their different cries for help. Keep in mind that those suffering from depression suffer in silence.
It has always been a parent’s challenge to differentiate between so-called growing pains and depression but here are some ways to help you recognize the signs and symptoms to help your child:
1. Irritability. A depressed teen may be easily frustrated or prone to angry outbursts rather than show their sadness through constant crying.
2. Low self-esteem. Depression may trigger feelings of inadequateness, ugliness and failure.
3. Insomnia and other sleep disorders such as oversleeping.
4. Change in appetite.
5. Lack of interest in the usual activities he/ she used to enjoy. Sudden problems in school may arise such as low grades and skipping classes. This includes withdrawing from social activities. You may notice them talking to fewer friends, or hanging out with a new group.
6. Undiagnosed physical pains including headaches and stomach pains.
7. Teens may use alcohol or drugs as self-medication but these lead to worsened states of depression.
8. Overtime in social media usage.
We need to take a closer look at the over usage of social media. Psychiatrist Dr. JM Chu notes the connection between teen depression and social media use, with teenagers who spend more time on their smartphones reporting higher rates of depression.
1. They tend to compare themselves, including their lifestyles and their looks with those they see as “pegs” on social media, resulting to low self-esteem and over self- criticism.
2. Online time decreases IRL (In Real Life) time which they should be using to have actual interactions with others. This also decreases their time to spend on physical and developmental activities. Studies have also shown that a sedentary life contributes to mental health issues.
3. Online overtime affects sleep patterns which may result to behavioral change including irritability.
4. Bringing on their gadgets may be their way to escape reality.
So here’s how parents/ adults can actually help teens who may be suffering from mental health issues:
1. What does your gut tell you? Even if your teen says he/she is alright, trust your paternal or maternal instinct minus the attack mode. Acknowledge his/her feelings and pain, and if you’re lucky to be trusted, listen. Assure your child of your unconditional love.
2. If your child refuses to communicate but your instinct tells you there is something wrong, encourage him/her to confide with a trusted friend or a counselor. Assure your child that there is nothing wrong with talking to a professional.
3. Encourage social and physical activities with peers to get him/her out of the rut. Depressed teens usually choose to isolate themselves even from family members. Encourage them to connect and reconnect with peers and society. As isolation worsens depressive states, make sure to make time for your kids even with a few minutes each day to check on them and ask how their day was.
4. Be respectful. Your child may be a child in your eyes but it’s good to remember that children are also just smaller versions of adults. Respect the comfort level of your child as up to how much he/she is willing to communicate at a certain time. Nagging will just push them away.
5. Limit social media use for the above reasons I have mentioned.
You may find yourselves drained from helping teens with depression and anxiety and you may experience a number of negative emotions including despair and frustration. But keep in mind that this is a trying time for your child and he/she isn’t purposely being difficult. Rather, your child is actually suffering, so be patient.
Do not be too hard on yourselves either when the progress is not how you have planned. Progress comes in different time frames but the important thing is you do not abandon your teen on this oftentimes bumpy road.
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