UPHOLDING MENTAL HEALTH AND WELBEING IN ADOLESCENTS: FACTORS AND STRATEGIES
Mental health and wellbeing is one of the crux of an individual’s life.
However, it is not considered given due attention. Studies worldwide have shown that adolescents face mental issues but it is not addressed properly.
As a result, our future generation suffer from a variety of mental health issues which not being resolved at the correct time go on to affect their adulthood.
India is a young country with the largest adolescent population of 253 million. According to UNICEF, “The adolescent brain develops at a rate unseen since early childhood- making girls and boys hypersensitive to influences in their environments. Adolescents’ inclination to try new things can spark innovation and achievement, but it can also leave them vulnerable.” 1
If these adolescents are well looked after, safe, healthy and well educated, they will support the country’s future development and contribute to Sustainable Development Goals 2.
But truth is, a large number of the country’s adolescents grapple with a number of mental health issues ranging from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, to self-harm and suicidal ideation.
Adolescents have passed the childhood stage, but have not yet fully matured into adulthood. Adolescence brings with it rapid cognitive, emotional, physical and psychological development, which is often frightening and confusing. This is when they move towards more autonomy and they need guidance but do not want to seek it.
According to Shrivastava3 et al, the suicide rate in India in 2015 at 15.7 out of 1,00,000 is higher than the regional leverage of 12.9. Suicide is the leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds in India. This shows that there is a massive, unaddressed need within the population, which have not been addressed by the family, the school and by the society.
According to an article in WION4, published on May 13, 2023, India has a suicide rate of more than 35 students per day, the latest being NIT Silchar student Koj Buker.
Are we failing as parents and teachers in providing support and mental health support to our students and adolescents? If a person is physically ill, the symptoms can be seen and treated. However, this is not so with mental illness.
WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?
WHO states that mental wellbeing enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, and contribute to their community. Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders. It leads to good decision making, academic achievement, overall sense of wellbeing, meaningful life. Lack of mental wellbeing results in anxiety, emotional dysregulation, risky sexual behaviour, and even depression and suicide.
COVID 19 and the lockdown that followed increased mental health issues in adolescents. Lockdown forced them away from their friends into an online virtual world increasing their social isolation and causing mobile addiction and mental issues to millions. Lack of spirituality and grounding have exacerbated the issues.
In order to develop mental health, there has to a balance between Risk Factors (domestic violence, dysfunctional families, sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse, poor social skills) and Protective factors (strong family connections, close friends, presence of a caring adult). If Risk Factors are more than the Protective Factors, the child will be a vulnerable child.
Factors responsible for mental health:
RESILIENCE is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress.”5 It is the ability to bounce back and not be devastated by events and circumstances.
NUTRITION: is an under looked part of an adolescent’s mental health. During adolescence, there is a drastic dietary change as the adolescent wants to choose what he wants to eat and when. An increased intake of junk food creates a nutritional deficiency which hampers cognitive and physiological development and maintenance. Teaching them about nutrition, eating disorders etc. can help the adolescents choose healthy foods.
POSITIVE BODY IMAGE: is a major cause of adolescent mental health issues. During adolescence, puberty drastically changes bodies. Social media, and fast changing fashion dictate what we should look like. In this situation, it is imperative to help our adolescents to be comfortable in their own skin, irrespective of their shape, size or gender. Having a negative body image creates low self-esteem, social anxiety, loss of confidence and social withdrawal. Inculcating a healthy body image boosts the adolescents’ confidence by making them feel socially accepted.
SELF ESTEEM show how much we value ourselves. Adolescents with low self-esteem are withdrawn, fear failure, take negative risks and indulge in risky sexual behavior. Usually, they are unable to resist negative peer pressure, indulge in substance abuse, bully others. Those with high self esteem have self-efficacy enabling them to think, learn and make appropriate decisions.
In schools, it can be inculcated in the students by: praising and acknowledging accomplishments when they do something well; setting realistic expectations and achievable goals.
PHYSICAL EXERCISE: One of the key factors in upholding mental health, it increases the oxygen level in the body, releases endorphins and provides an outlet to release the pent-up energy. It lets the adolescents channelize their aggression in positive ways.
EMOTIONAL REGULATION: This helps to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. Here the emphasis is on RESPONSE and not REACT. In adolescents, it is the limbic brain that deals with emotional experiences and so their responses are aggressive and thoughtless. They do not know how to deal with emotions.
Making Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) a part of the school curriculum can help adolescents develop self-awareness and interpersonal skills that is required for good mental health.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION: When adolescents earn and learn to manage money, having financial educationbrings a sense of security and clarity.
ACADEMIC PRESSURE: In today’s competitive world, getting a B or C or failing an exam is equivalent to a death sentence. No wonder that the suicide rate among students in India is the highest in the world. Schools, parents and society have great expectations from students and this can cause extreme levels of stress on the students causing anxiety, depression and low morale.
EMPATHY: This enables us to understand and share the feelings of another. It helps un to connect as social beings and brings compassion into relationships. It enables us to see situations from the other point of view, rather than just remaining stuck in “I am always right” mode.
We can identify a vulnerable child by observing behavioural issues both at home and at school; fluctuating or poor academic performance; social withdrawal symptoms; indulgences in substance abuse; high risk sexual behavior; changes in appetite and sleep patterns; mood swings sucidal ideation.
Schools can play a positive role in developing mental health by following general neutral policies, being more open, receptive and less judgmental; by empathising with and empowering the children by developing capacity building programmes for children; by initiating and supporting family and group interventions and finally, through unconditional acceptance.
It can also train teachers in identifying adolescents undergoing mental health issues and provide suitable interventions. Schools can also create awareness among the stakeholders and the community regarding mental health
In India, mental health is taken as a subsidiary part within a multi-pronged program. Most of the interventions taken up are done in bits and parts and with no follow up. There is also a stigma attached to mental health issues where adolescence and their parents are in denial the issue. And even if they accept, are not courageous enough to go out and seek help. There is a lack of awareness regarding these issues among parents and teachers.
Achieving mental health is not an easy task; it needs maintenance and an open mind. We, as a society, have to be non-judgmental, and help the adolescents learn from their mistakes. We have tp change with the times and let go of our age-old prejudices. We, as adults, should be able to discuss money, relationships and sexual behavior with our children, even if it is uncomfortable.
If we don’t do so, someone else will and that will neither be healthy or safe for our children. As teachers, we will have to be ready to answer questions in class. We are caretakers of the adults of tomorrow. Instead of just Maths and History, we need to teach them healthy coping strategies enabling them to engage with and solve the problems that they will face in their day to day lives.
- Adolescent development and participation: investing in adolescents builds strong economies, inclusive economies and vibrant societies; https://www.unicef.org >adolescence
- Kurian, CO; Mukherjee, D; Behal, S;;, Investing in Adolescent Health: Harnessing India’s Demographic Dividend, 29 July 2020, Observer Research Foundation, orfonline.org/ research/investing-in-adolescent-health
- Srivastava, Kalpana, Kaushik Chatterjee, and Pookala Shivaram Bhat. “Mental health awareness: The Indian scenario.” Industrial psychiatry journal 25.2 (2016): 131.
- WION, India’s shocking suicide rate: More than 35 students end life every day, Apurva Adhikari; May 13, 2023, New Delhi, India
- American Psychological Association, (2014) cited in Resilience definations, theory and challenges., Southwick, SM, Bonanno, GA and Yehuda, R, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
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