Managing mental health in young people is incredibly important. It is estimated that 1 in 7 10-19 year-olds experience mental health problems and an alarming 75% of young people are not able to access the help they need, contributing to the mental health crisis. Accessing the proper mental health support could be essential for the development of a young person. Young people’s mental health is slightly different from adults’ mental health as the brain is at a different stage in development. Studies have shown that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. Adolescents and children may not be able to handle mentally challenging situations as well as adults, so they are more vulnerable to developing mental health problems.
It is important to recognise that as well as being more vulnerable to mental health challenges, young people may behave differently from adults at times, which is primarily associated with brain development. Understanding a child’s mental health and their behaviour will be greatly beneficial for understanding them as a whole and recognising what is normal or abnormal behaviour.
For example, the actions of an adolescent are led more by emotions and reactions rather than logic. Studies have also indicated that exposure to drugs and alcohol during these years can alter or delay brain development. Typical adolescent behaviour may also include:
- Impulsive reactions
- Misunderstanding of social cues and emotions
- Being accident prone
- Engaging in conflict
- Displaying dangerous or risky behaviour
Young people are also less likely to:
- Think before taking action
- Alter any inappropriate behaviour they might have
- Take time to think about the consequences of their actions
Recognising Signs of Mental Health Problems
Although some behaviour displayed by young people may be normal for their stage in development, there are certain signs you can watch out for that may indicate they are struggling with their mental health. For example:
- Change in sleeping patterns (this may be that they are unable to sleep or sleep an above-average amount)
- New feelings of guilt or unpredictable moods
- Difficulty concentrating on tasks
- Changes to eating habits
- Lacking motivation
- Suicidal thoughts
- Having little or no energy
- Becoming angry very easily
- Isolating themselves from others around them (they may spend large amounts of time by themselves)
- Confused or delusional thoughts
- Excessive anxiety
- Impulsive behaviour
- Antisocial behaviour
- Difficulty paying attention
Displaying a few or more of these symptoms may indicate a young person is struggling with their mental health. If you believe they are struggling it may be helpful to contact adolescent mental health services to ask for advice. Often addressing the topic of mental health with a young person can be a sensitive subject, so seeking advice on the correct methods of approach could be beneficial for achieving a successful outcome.
Mental Illness in Adolescents
Mental health problems encompass a huge range of disorders that can manifest in different severities. Some conditions may be a direct response to external factors and pressures placed upon them or as a result of a traumatic experience, whereas other conditions may be more chronic and hereditary. Different conditions may also require different forms and levels of treatment. As an adult, it is important to make young people feel safe and comfortable so they feel they can speak openly about any issues that are bothering them in order to achieve good mental health.
Fortunately, the stigma that surrounds mental health is fading as more and more people are becoming aware and understanding of mental illnesses; however, there is still a way to go before talking openly about mental health is normalised.
Breaking the stigma starts with education around the mental health of children and young adults. Knowing the most common types of conditions is essential for supporting them so you can seek the correct guidance and treatment.
Most Common Types of Mental Illnesses
Some of the most common mental health conditions in young people are:
- Eating disorders – an eating disorder typically encompasses things such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or excessive eating. Children or young adults who are experiencing this may try to hide their eating habits to avoid questions.
- Thought and mood disorders – this can include things such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.
- Developmental disorders – symptoms of these may be displayed from a very young age and may include disorders such as autism spectrum disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Generalized anxiety disorder – this is a mental health issue that can create excessive worrying about matters that can occur in everyday life.
- Social phobias—this can cause someone to feel extremely uncomfortable, have low self-esteem and be self-conscious in social settings.
- Depression – this is a mental health problem that can cause someone to feel extremely sad or low for long periods of time. In some cases, these extreme feelings can lead to self-harm and lead to other mental health issues later in life such as bipolar disorder.
Ways to Support a Young Person With a Mental Health Condition
There are a few things that you can do to support a young person with a mental health condition, such as:
- Talk openly with them and take their feelings seriously – if you notice that your child is displaying signs or symptoms of a mental health condition, you should start by encouraging them to talk openly about their feelings. A good way to do this is by discussing your own mental health to a level you feel comfortable with, so they know they are not alone and other people have experienced similar things. Additionally, if they express their feelings you should take them seriously, provide emotional support and not be dismissive of what they are telling you.
- Discuss what is making them feel distressed – often a young person may feel distressed or upset but may not know exactly why they are feeling this way. Having a chat with them about the things that could be potentially upsetting them and assessing risk factors around them could indicate ways that things could be changed in order to help them.
- Seek advice from a mental health professional – if you are unsure of what to do you should access support from a mental health nurse, a doctor or even other services such as a registered charity that specialises in youth mental health. They will be able to guide you on the correct procedures for approaching any issues. Speaking to another family member may also help you gain a different perspective.
- Ensure their physical health is maintained – being sedentary can have a negative impact on children’s and young people’s mental health. As parents, it is a really good idea to encourage your child to be as active as possible. Studies show that doing physical activity releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. These chemicals help to boost happiness, self-esteem and confidence. Plus joining or attending a club with other young people will help them to socialise and build friendships.
- Be their friend – often the best thing you can do to help is offer a friendly ear and have fun with them. Young minds can often feel confused, overwhelmed, and anxious in daily life. Doing fun and relaxing things with them in the role of a friend rather than a parent will help them to feel at ease. It is also essential to encourage them to talk, but not force them. They will open up when they are ready.
We Are Here to Help
At The Wave Clinic, we have a number of services and treatment plans specifically designed to help young people and their mental health needs. We place special focus on helping young adults regain their self-confidence and self-esteem and teach them methods to be able to cope with difficult or challenging situations so they can face the future with optimism and confidence. Contact us today to find out more.