This is the first article in a series, by Vanessa Brown our Counsellor, on the topic of adolescent mental health and emotional well-being. Future topics will focus on specific issues including the teenage brain, anxiety, anger, depression, low self-esteem, social media, mindfulness and relaxation, and unhelpful thinking habits.
There is no doubt that mental health issues are on the increase in our young people, due in part to the complexity of modern life. But what do we actually mean by mental health? One way of understanding mental health is to picture a continuum, from good to bad. When we think of it in that way it is clear that we all have mental health, and we aspire to being at the “good” end of the continuum. It’s when we find ourselves spending much of our time towards the “bad” end that we might say we are experiencing mental health problems, and this is a time many people look for professional help to try to make sense of their feelings and find a way forward to a happier state of mind.
Adolescence starts around the time of puberty and goes on until our mid-twenties. This period in our lives is that of transition, from childhood to adulthood, and although it is a hugely exciting time for us it can also be a very turbulent and troubled time as we are trying to work out what sort of adult we want to be.
Here are some words a group of young adults used to describe their adolescence. “Isolated, Crazed, Confused, A mess, Alone, Terrified, Wild, Out of Control, Lost, Seeking, Frightened.” Clearly for them the transition from childhood was proving to be a difficult and scary time in their lives.
Growing up is hard work! Here are some of the challenges that adolescents are facing.
- developing sexual maturity – sex hormones are produced, and this
- brings both physical and mental changes, and often an increase in
- mood swings.
- coping with physical changes, most of which they have no control over.
- developing self-image, and this includes changes in self-identity and relationships.
- uncertainties about the future.
- growing realisation that childhood dreams may not come true.
- cutting emotional dependence on parents. This can be frightening, and can make them feel cut off from the safety of their childhood – like casting off a security blanket.
All of the above can lead to difficult emotions such as fear, anxiety and anger.
In order to negotiate the potential difficulties inherent in growing up, we need good levels of self-esteem, and good attachments (at the very minimum with one trustworthy adult).
High self-esteem builds resilience, the ability to cope at times of difficulty.
Low self-esteem can lead to fear, anger, anxiety, depression, self-harm, stress – the list goes on.
There are many organisations which provide information and support on adolescent mental health – here are a few of the most useful websites: