Mental Health in Adolescents

October 10, 2018

Adolescence!!! What is adolescence??? When we think about adolescents, on one hand there is lot of energy, full of liveliness and on the other hand, we also get thoughts of lot of turbulence and problem behaviors in adolescents. The period following the onset of puberty during which a young person develops from a child into an adult is termed as ‘adolescence’.The experiences that adolescentsgain during this life stage can influence the way he views the world. What an adolescent chooses in this life stage majorly influences his quality of life throughout. This is the stage when they start becoming independent and start looking at themselves in terms of career, relationships, families, housing etc. They try to look forward to fit themselves well within the society. When things do not go as it is supposed to be, may lead to many stresses in the adolescents. Stress has been associated with a variety of high-risk behaviors, including smoking, gambling, suicide, depression, drug abuse, behavioral problems, and participating in high-risk sexual behaviors in adolescents. In addition, long-term exposure to stress is associated with a variety of chronic psychological and physical illnesses.

Adults usually fail to understand this level of stress and its effect on the adolescents. This could be due to lack of awareness of the sources of stress in adolescents. Many a times adults compare their own adolescent experiences with that of the experiences of the current adolescents without understanding the generation differences that would have occurred. As adults we need to try to understand the complexities involved in the experiences of the current day adolescents.

Following are the changes in various aspects that an adolescent experience.

Biological changes

As we all know that puberty leads to lot of physiological and biological changes in human body such as breast development, changes in body height and shape, growth of pubic hair and body hair, voice changes, etc., These changes may lead to the individual being uncomfortable about their body until they get adapted to it. Successful adaptation will lead to fidelity i.e. being able to commit to one's self to others. Due to hormonal changes, adolescents may have mood swings and frequent change of temperament. They tend to have more intense and wide-ranging emotions which may lead to other issues in adolescents.

Psychosocial changes

According to a psychologist Erik Ericsson, the adolescents search for a sense of personal identity by exploring personal values and beliefs. They explore possibilities and begin to form their own identity based upon the outcome of their exploration. Failure to establish a sense of identity may lead to role confusion where they are not sure about themselves and their place in the society. Two forms of identity are formed, namely occupational and sexual. In the need to establish an occupational identity, the individual begins to try out various styles in the areas of work, studies, etc., Major conflict centers on forming intimate loving relationships with other people in the process of establishing sexual identity. A strong sexual interest in the opposite sex starts developing. They explore relationships resulting in long-term commitments with someone other than a family member. Successful completion of this stage results in happy relationships. Avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and relationships can lead to isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression.

Cognitive changes

According to a psychologist Jean Piaget, thinking becomes more sophisticated and advanced in adolescents. They start thinking abstractly and use logic to come up with creative solutions to problems. Skills such as rational thinking, logical reasoning, and methodical planning develops. Lack of cognitive abilities may lead to failure in many life areas. Errors in values and beliefs in the individual may lead to poor coping mechanisms ending up with wrong choices in all the areas of functioning.

All the above mentioned changes cause lot of distress in adolescents. In the current world, the adolescents are also exposed to highly anxiety provoking environment. Disturbed adolescents are found to use negative coping strategies such as alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, isolation or running away from home etc., Academic grades and having a high profile job has become one of the indicators of successful life of an individual. Inability to cope up with the expectations may lead to many psychological issues in the adolescents. Peer pressure to use drugs and inappropriate sexual behaviors affects an adolescent’s life in significant ways.

Following are the most commonly found risk factors for mental health (Auradha, Yagnik & Sharma, 2012):

• Prenatal brain damage
• Prematurity
• Birth injury
• Low intelligence
• Chronic illness
• Poor health in infancy
• Insecure attachment in infancy/childhood
• Low birth weight or birth complications
• Difficult temperament
• Physical and/or intellectual disability
• Poor social skills
• Low self-esteem
• Impulsivity
• Absence of either parent in childhood
• Anti-social role models
• Marital discord in parents, divorce
• Long term parental unemployment
• Parental criminality and disharmony
• Parental substance abuse
• Parental mental health disorder
• Poor supervision and monitoring
• Family social isolation
• Lack of warmth and affection
• Death of a family member
• Poor attachment to school
• Bullying
• Peer rejection
• Inadequate behavior management
• Deviant peer group
• School failure
• Frequent school transitions
• Socio-economic disadvantage
• Social /cultural discrimination
• Neighborhood violence & crime
• Overcrowded housing conditions
• Lack of recreational opportunities
• Lack of support services

Following are found to be the protective factors for mental health (Auradha, Yagnik & Sharma, 2012):

• Easy temperament
• Adequate nutrition
• Above average intelligence
• Problem solving skills
• Internal locus of control
• Social competence
• Social skills
• Good coping style
• Optimism
• Moral beliefs
• Values Positive self- regard
• Good physical health
• Attachment to family
• Supportive, caring parents
• Family harmony
• Secure and stable family
• High level of family responsibility
• Strong family norms and morality
• Economic security
• School achievement
• Sense of belonging at school
• Positive school climate
• Opportunities for success & recognition of achievement
• Sense of connectedness to community
• Strong cultural identity and ethnic pride
• Access to support services
• Community norms against violence
• Caring neighborhood

Following are the ways through which parents and teachers can facilitate good mental health in the adolescents:

• Providing psychological support during the changes that occur in adolescent stage: Educate them about the changes that are happening within them. Be supportive enough and make them understand that these changes are normal and not to feel hesitant with these changes.
• Imparting good values: Listening to their experiences and helping them in understanding the logic behind those experiences helps in learning good values. This can be even done though sharing our own experiences with them. Adolescents usually will not take any direct orders. Instead, create situations in which they come up with right solutions. Our job should be to help them find the right path than showing the destination.
• Helping the adolescents to believe in themselves: Avoid blaming them for the mistakes they do. Instead help them in learning from those mistakes. Mistakes are part and parcel of life. Make them feel that you are there for them in every step of their life. Make them understand that you trust them.
• Being facilitators rather than dictators in the life of the adolescents: As adults we should avoid choosing anything for them. Instead, our aim should be to help them in choosing the right things.
• Helping them in managing their emotions by giving opportunities to express their feelings: Spend quality time with them.One of the ways through which we can facilitate this is by doing activities of common interest. The process of doing activities together helps in expression of feelings.
• Providing them with a strong family base with good values: Having good contacts with our friends and relatives also helps at times. It is seen that children who live with grandparents usually develop good values.
• Being role models in using coping strategies: we as adults should demonstrate good coping strategies. After all, we are the one from whom the children learn.
• Modeling healthier lifestyles: If we want our children to have a good lifestyle, we as adults should model good lifestyle to them.
• Spending good quality time with the family members especially with the children and adolescents:This can be slightly difficult in the present day situations especially when both the parents work. But, we need to understand that our children are the one for whom we work. So, they should be our priority.
• Avoiding comparisons with others as every child is unique in his/her own ways: every child is unique in their own ways. Every child cannot be an expert in everything. It is true that in the current world academics influence a person’s career. But, what is that we want for our children? Is it to be a doctor or engineer with dissatisfaction in life or a life of satisfaction. We should remember that satisfaction is achieved only when we do what we want to or like to do.
• Helping in developing internal locus of control: We should help our children in understanding that the external world can be influenced by creating changes in ourselves instead of blaming the external world for everything.

Every year October 10 is celebrated as World Mental Health Day and this year it is celebrated with the theme ‘Mental health awareness in Youth’. Let’s all strive towards having youth with good mental health so that they may contribute to the benefit of the society.

By Shalini Quadros
Shalini Quadros is an assistant lecturer in the Department of Occupational Therapy, School of Allied Health Sciences, Manipal
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Comment on this article

  • Naturecare Counseling & Healing Centre, Mumbai

    Wed, Oct 17 2018

    Very good article . Parents must take a major role at this stage by changing their role from Parent to friend so that the children share their new experiences with the parents. Their perception changes and they create new pictures during this period of hormonal changes. Naturecare Counseling & Healing Centre provides support to such children (adolescence) in correcting and re-writing the wrong pictures created in their minds through NLP Techniques.

  • Shanthi Quadras, Palimar/Dubai

    Tue, Oct 16 2018

    Timely Article Shalini. Well explained . Keep writing

  • Johnson Coutinho, Palimar/Mira road

    Fri, Oct 12 2018

    Great !!!!!!!!!
    Keep Writing Shalini. God bless you.

  • Sibadiuty mohapatra, Manglore

    Thu, Oct 11 2018

    Really beneficial , especially for the parents.. Good job...

  • Alwyn Johnson Quadros, Shirva/Dubai

    Thu, Oct 11 2018

    Thanks. Good article.

  • naveen, Palimar

    Thu, Oct 11 2018

    good one
    keep writing

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