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Mental Health

How Diet Affects Mental Health and Wellness

You are what you eat, in more ways than one. Diet can have a tremendous impact on a person’s health, regardless of their exercise and lifestyle habits. While it’s important to get your steps in and quit smoking, food habits can make a massive difference in your overall longevity and quality of life, especially with regards to body weight (and joint health), and heart health. 

But food also plays an important role in every other process within the body, including countless daily chemical interactions in the brain. 

How you feel in your body and your overall physical health can affect you mentally, but it’s important not to underestimate the direct effect that good nutrition – and the lack thereof – has on the human psyche. 

Why Does Diet Matter?

Research in the topic of diet and mental health yields several interesting results. The pathways through which diet can affect a person’s mental health include through:

Our nutrition can have both a positive and negative effect on mental health. Certain diets correlate with poorer mental health outcomes, with other diets correlate with better mental health outcomes. 

Nutrients and the Brain

There are studies supporting diets richer in polyunsaturated fat, lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains, while the inverse is true of diets rich in refined carbohydrates, omega-6 fatty acids, saturated fat, and trans-fat. 

Certain vitamins play a critical role in mood and mental health. Vitamin D deficiency, which is particularly common in teens who experience a lack of sunlight, can affect skin health, bone health, and depression. Other common nutrient deficiencies that correlate directly with poor mental health include omega-3 fatty acid, folic acid, and vitamin B12. Among minerals, common deficiencies which can impact mood and mental health include iron, chromium, lithium, selenium, and zinc. 

It is smart to consider talking to your doctor about your current dietary trends and taking a blood test to identify any nutritional deficiencies you might have, if at all. 

While it’s generally safe to supplement minerals and vitamins, it should also be noted that bioavailability from supplements tends to be lower than the micronutrient value of food. A balanced diet will do you better than maintaining bad habits and taking a multivitamin. But a good diet and a multivitamin is best. 

In short? Cut out trans-fat, limit saturated fat, and avoid refined sugars. Opt for lean meats, eat plenty of vegetables, and foods high in vitamins and minerals. Consider omega-3 supplementation if you don’t consume a lot of fish. 

If that sounds like advice you’ve heard before, it’s because it probably is. Many customers are generally aware of what is and isn’t healthy – and the fundamentals will always make the biggest impact, both on your physical and mental health. 

Is It Expensive to Eat Right?

People who struggle with mental health issues generally have a much poorer diet as a result of their issues. They may have a hard time preparing meals or focusing on cooking and nutrition. They’re more likely to reach for foods that satiate their current cravings or are most readily available on the smallest budget. 

There is also a socio-economic aspect to consider, where depression and other mental health issues correlate with poverty, and poor nutrition. 

But that does not discount that switching to a better diet leads to a marked improvement in mental and physical health and that eating healthy does not have to be expensive

Cook larger portions on the weekends and eat them over several meals. Focus on healthy staples and non-perishables, such as yams and brown rice. Source local vegetables for cheap and stick to supermarket brands. Buy dry goods in bulk. Reap the benefits of healthy canned goods, like canned beans and canned fish. 

If your appetite and budget are low, you can supplement your daily protein requirements with whey, or a protein supplement you’re comfortable with. Look online for local organizations that combat food waste by selling irregular vegetables and produce that the supermarket doesn’t accept, like Imperfect Foods. While it does take a little bit of planning and preparation to eat more homecooked meals, it’s isn’t impossible, even on a tight schedule and strict budget. 

Don’t Worry About Superfoods

There are plenty of vested interests in the world of nutrition, and lots of money in food marketing. These can confuse customers about what is and isn’t healthy, and what the “ideal diet” really looks like. No matter what you might have read, never forget that the fundamentals matter most

What you eat, how you eat, and when you eat is a matter of individual preference and circumstance. While some foods are objectively healthier than others, portions also matter. A bit of cheese or a few cuts of cured meat won’t make you depressed. Indulging in some ice cream or chocolate isn’t guaranteed to trigger your anxiety. 

Unless you have a history of eating disorders and certain food triggers, feel free to create your own balanced diet based on what’s available to you, and the most affordable local options for a nutrient-rich meal plan.  

All About the Fundamentals

We eat on a daily basis, generally more than twice, and sometimes with snacks in between. Food is something every human cares about, and it’s an integral identifier for culture and tradition across the globe. All festivities and occasions are marked by a special meal, for example, and both food choices and fasting have incredibly important religious connotations. Food matters: what you eat, how you eat it, and who you eat it with. 

Good food habits start young. While genes matter, underlying health can always be improved with a balanced diet, many staples of which are inexpensive and readily available. Teaching ourselves and our children to prepare and enjoy making healthy meals can confer vital life-long benefits while becoming an opportunity to boost a teen’s self-esteem through skills building. 

A healthy diet is never temporary, and it should never be bland or boring. Keep it interesting and fresh, learn to play with new ingredients, try out different cuisines and spices, pick up quick-cooking cheats to spruce up your favorite dishes, and keep learning ways to make living and eating healthy fun and interesting, rather than a chore for physical and mental longevity.

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Mental Health

The Close Connection Between Exercise and Mental Health

While it’s a well-known fact, there’s a clear connection between exercise and mental health, and the benefits are often underestimated by patients and their loved ones alike.

Physical movement does more for you than just keep your body fit – it can help improve cognition, improve mood, regulate emotions, reduce stress, fight against anxious and depressive thoughts, and can play a significant therapeutic role in a patient’s treatment plan – to the point that, for many conditions, regular exercise can be considered a first-line treatment.

But why is exercise such a powerful tool for mental health – and where exactly does the connection lie? Let’s explore what happens in the body and the brain when we get moving, and why exercise helps us feel so much better in general.

Exploring the Benefits of Exercise and Mental Health

There are multiple accepted theories for the benefits of exercise for mental health.

We all know that physical exercise helps keep the body fit, improving heart health, reducing the likelihood of back pain, and even reducing the effects of certain age-related physical conditions such as disc degenerative disease and osteoporosis. Strengthening the muscles of the body correlates with longevity and resistance to certain diseases, and regular exercise improves the immune system.

But the effects of exercise on the brain and a person’s mental state may have several reasons. These include:

  • Exercise raises your core temperature, which can have a positive effect on depressive symptoms.
  • Exercise releases dopamine, which creates a feeling of euphoria and modulates mood.
  • Exercise increases the availability of multiple important mood-regulating chemicals in the brain.
  • Regular exercise serves as a distraction from distressing and intrusive depressive thoughts, as well as other negative thinking.
  • Consistent and regular exercise creates a positive feedback loop giving a person more control over their life and self-esteem.

Each one of these theories has some scientific merit, to the point that all of them could prove to be relevant to some degree for anyone who finds success with exercise as a therapeutic tool against depression and other mental health issues. As with most things, the truth may be somewhere in the middle, where the physiological and emotional benefits of exercise can be traced to a combination of all of the above.

Because exercise is usually structured in a way that emphasizes a linear progression and progressive overload – whether it’s in the form of new skills and techniques in certain sports, increasing challenges, or physical resistance – we develop a more positive sense of self in response to exercise.

Meanwhile, exercise unleashes a wave of brain chemicals each time, leading to improved sleep, weight reduction, increased energy, better endurance, reduced mental fatigue, and mood regulation. All these factors in turn help reduce depressive and anxious thoughts.

Discover the close connection between exercise and mental health.

Exercise for Long-Term Stress Relief

Aside from having a marked effect on multiple different mental health issues, from depression and anxiety to ADHD, PTSD, schizophrenia, and more, it’s important to remember that exercise is also a powerful preventative tool due to its ability to modulate and reduce stress.

That doesn’t mean people who work out often can’t get depressed or anxious – however, it can reduce their likelihood of struggling with tougher outcomes and stronger symptoms.

Many of the factors surrounding mental health issues like depression and anxiety are uncontrollable, like genetics, traumatic experiences, and socioeconomic circumstances.

Some of these can impact your ability to exercise regularly, due to physical disability, lack of time, or lack of resources. For some, regular exercise is a luxury. However, we don’t need to take on an athlete’s schedule to benefit from the mental health effects of exercise.

How Much Exercise is Enough?

A meta-analysis of multiple studies found that anywhere between two to six hours of exercise per week is enough to reap the maximum benefits for mental health. This means you need only dedicate anywhere from a few minutes to an hour a day to start seeing long-term benefits from your workouts.

Forget “No Pain No Gain”

You really don’t need to overdo it. Unless you’re the type that specifically derives enjoyment and passion from competitive training, sports training, and pursuing specific goals, you’re much better off training conservatively and pursuing exercises that are fun, rather than prioritizing optimal growth, or athletic performance.

What’s even more important than overall intensity is commitment and consistency. The benefits of exercise aren’t necessarily immediate, in the sense that you might not see a significant difference in mental health symptoms from one day to the next after your first few sessions of physical activity.

It’s Not the End All Be All

Despite the close connection between exercise and mental health, exercise is not a panacea. The downside to reaping the benefits of continuous and consistent exercise is that it’s famously difficult to be consistent or continuous with any kind of activity while struggling with a mental health issue.

People who are depressed or struggle with anxiety will also usually have a harder time forming positive habits or convincing themselves to work out when they don’t want to. It’s difficult to create and stick to an exercise regimen while struggling with mood fluctuations, medication side effects, and bouts of mental and physical fatigue.

To that end, it’s important to figure out contingencies.

Create an exercise group with your friends, and let yourself be encouraged by positive peer pressure. Pick exercises that are actually fun, or at least feel enjoyable to you.

Vary up your exercise program so that you don’t end up doing the same things for months on end (if that burns you out). Create a modular program that can be adapted for “easy days” when it’s hard enough to get out of bed, let alone hit the gym.

Exercise is an amazing therapeutic tool, but it isn’t enough to tell a person to go for a jog in order to cure their depression. There are good ways and bad ways to incorporate regular exercise and training into your daily life when you’re struggling with a mental health issue, and having an understanding and supportive family and experienced fitness and mental health professional on your side can be a tremendous boon.

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Mental Health

4 Common Mental Disorders in Teens

It’s been often discussed that teens are experiencing more symptoms of mental disorders in teens today than ever. In fact, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy recently issued a public health advisory on the mental health challenges confronting youth GeneralCompounding problems, from a bleak labor market to global warming, to an ongoing global pandemic, are affecting countless teenagers facing the prospect of growing up in a world that might be less kind to them than it has been to previous generations.

Not helping matters are the tangible effects of social media and constant internet exposure, as well as increased pressure to perform well in higher education.

As teens grow older, they approach the onset of most of the common mental health issues that affect us today.

Parents and teens alike need to be better equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to identify and combat these illnesses, provide long-term support to help teens develop healthy expectations for themselves and live fulfilling lives, and gain a better understanding of the myriad of short-term and long-term treatment options available for teens and adults.

Let’s take a look at four of the most common mental disorders in teens, and how they can develop.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders affect people more than any other mental disorders in teens. Research has shown that up to a quarter of children between the ages of 13 and 18 are struggling with an anxiety disorder diagnosis, and studies taken from over two dozen nations show that about 18 percent of the world’s population may suffer from anxiety, compared to less than ten percent for mood disorders, and about 6 percent for substance use.

Among anxiety disorders, the most common one is a generalized anxiety disorder. This is a condition characterized by a heightened sense of dread, worry, and insecurity. It often overlaps with other anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and is a common codependent illness in cases of substance use.

The defining difference between a nervous teenager and a teenager with generalized anxiety is the degree to which their worries and fears affect them in their daily lives, and play a role in their relationships, performance at school, self-esteem, and interests. We’ve all had rough spots growing up, but a teen with generalized anxiety will experience constant fear of making the wrong choices, difficulty concentrating, maybe chronically restless, and will constantly be thinking of the worst-case scenario.

Generalized anxiety disorder can also include physical symptoms. Teens with generalized anxiety may experience panic attacks, hyperventilation, may break out into sweats, may feel generally more fatigued (as their adrenal glands are consistently shot), and may have more frequent bouts of nausea and/or digestive problems.

Risk factors for generalized anxiety are largely genetic. If anxiety is a long-running issue in the family, your chances of developing anxiety symptoms are higher. Because it is a long-term condition, generalized anxiety is usually modulated through long-term treatment, often through the concurrent use of talk therapy and patient-specific medication. Medication may not always be necessary, and there are several different types of drugs used in the treatment of anxiety, from beta-blockers and antidepressants to anti-convulsant and muscle relaxant drugs.

Major Depressive Disorder

Among mood disorders, the most common and recognizable one is major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression.

Most people are aware of what depression is and what it might look like, although they might not be aware of how common it can be, or the fact that you can be depressed for a period of time, rather than facing a life-long diagnosis.

About 15.7 percent of teens aged 12 to 17 have had a major depressive episode, alongside about 15.2 percent of adults aged 18 to 25. Only about two-thirds of people affected by major depressive disorder receive any treatment.

Like many anxiety disorders, depressive disorders (or mood disorders) are hereditary. There are many risk factors involved in exacerbating symptoms, or triggering the onset of depression, from a sudden loss to chronic stress at home, all the way to factors some people might not consider very often, such as lack of sleep and nutrition.

While antidepressants often play a role in treatment, they are very rarely the answer to depression on their own. About 6 percent of cases, among both teens and adults, were prescribed medication only. Talk therapy is an important modality for depression as well, particularly cognitive behavior therapy.

Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 9.4 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 17. It’s one of the more poorly understood mental health issues, with allegations that it’s overdiagnosed and overmedicated.

Part of the concern for this issue arose from the fact that diagnosis rates exploded after the turn of the century, with a 42 percent rise in prevalence between 2003 and 2011.

While it’s likely irresponsible to claim that ADHD is overdiagnosed, it isn’t wrong to say that there is a lack of clarity around the condition. The guidelines for diagnosing ADHD as per the DSM 5 are not always rigorously applied, some studies found.

Yet there is also some evidence to consider that the condition remains underdiagnosed instead, especially among adults. ADHD is a huge drain on productivity and a major cause of individual impairment.

ADHD is what we call a behavioral disorder, and is the most common type. Diagnosis rates have exploded in large part due to a much better understanding of what this condition is, alongside improvements in treatment plans.

While medication is often used to combat ADHD – in the form of amphetamines and methylphenidates – behavioral therapy and talk therapy play important roles as well. Stimulants are shown to have a different effect on brains with ADHD versus non-ADHD brains, to the point where consistent medication leads to lower rates of illicit substance use, as well as improved symptoms. Contrast this to the recreational use of ADHD drugs, which is a common issue among teens.

Substance Use Disorder

Drug use has grown in prevalence since the onset of the pandemic, and the use of both marijuana and e-cigarettes has been growing for the past few years. While teens may not be addicted at the same rates as adults, addiction is a greater risk for teens because of the impact it can have on physical and mental development.

Addiction is a young person’s growing brain that can have lasting effects on their ability to gauge risk, permanently affect their cognitive abilities, and will drastically increase the risk of long-term substance use problems.

Early treatment is the best course of action for teens struggling with addiction. Concurrent treatment for issues like depression and anxiety may also be necessary, as about a third of people with mental disorders and a half of people with severe mental disorders also experience substance abuse.

Recognizing the signs and getting help are important first steps, but long-term support is critical. Parents, family, and friends all play a role in helping a teen manage their symptoms, continue to seek help, and have access to the resources needed to get better.

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Mental Health

4 Common Teen Mental Health Issues During the Holidays

The holidays are a time of joy, but they can also be stressful and difficult for those with teen mental health issues.

You don’t have to go through the holidays feeling isolated and alone. We understand how hard it is to manage mental health during this busy time of year and we’re here to help you get through it! The more you understand teen mental health issues and how to manage them during stressful times, the more prepared you will be.

In this article, you will discover the five most common teen mental health issues during the holidays and how to cope.

Common Teen Mental Health Issues

It’s the time for joy and merriment – but despite being the jolliest of holidays, the holiday season is also a common source of stress and teen mental health issues. Over 80 percent of Americans experience more stress and lower mood during the holiday season, and a surprising one-third of adults in the US would rather skip the holiday season altogether. 

There are a few factors behind this. The holiday season is a time for feasting and celebration, but it’s also a time for shopping rushes, large crowds of people, anxiety-inducing social events, transit nightmares, awful weather-related events, and depressingly long nights. For teens with existing mental health issues, they can get a lot worse underneath all the stress.

Here are five of the most common teen mental health issues and how to manage them during the holidays. 

Reunions and Social Anxiety

Teens who struggle with anxiety may have issues relaxing around people they aren’t used to interacting with, whether it’s during a school event or when the extended family has come over from multiple states to visit.

Large events, multiple people coming together, and the added stress and buzz that comes with making preparations to receive and host others can put a large toll on teenagers with anxiety issues and exacerbate their symptoms. 

Winter and Seasonal Depression

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of mood disorder characterized by low mood and symptoms of depression during the winter months, most often. It also just so happens that the holidays all cluster around the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. 

For many with seasonal affective disorder, the shift towards colder winter months, longer nights, and less overall sunlight seem to play a role in their low mood. If they don’t spend much time outdoors during the sparse daytime hours to begin with – which, depending on the weather, is understandable – this issue can get worse. 

Whether it’s as simple as a vitamin D deficiency or has to do with the psychological and circadian role that sunlight plays in the human body, seasonal affective disorder is a real and debilitating illness during the holidays. The added stress of the preparatory holiday season can make things even harder. 

Getting Through the Season with ADHD

Teens and adults diagnosed with ADHD generally experience heightened anxiety and stress symptoms during the holiday months. It’s not particularly soothing to have your schedule thrown out the window – and while the excitement may be fun to partake in, it can become a bit too much for some teens, and boil over into stress. 

It’s the lack of structure that does most teens with ADHD in during the holiday months. Many rely not only on medication and therapy but on short daily goals and activities to keep their symptoms in check. But the holidays are a time for overeating, oversleeping, overspending, and overscheduling. It can add up. 

Alcoholism and Addiction in the Yuletide

It’s not just eggnog. Heightened life stressors are always an immense risk factor for recovering alcoholics or teens with a history of substance abuse. While not every teen might have started taking drugs as a way to cope with stress, teens with substance use disorders will certainly struggle with greater cravings and risk of relapse when faced with overwhelming situations. 

Meanwhile, a teen’s support system might not be available to them 24/7 amid the holiday rush. Parents, other family members, and friends might be busy preparing or celebrating – making it easier and more tempting to sneak away and get a drink or fall back on old habits to deal with the overstimulation and lack of structure. 

Dealing with mental health issues during the holidays can feel like a drag – but it doesn’t have to be. There are steps you can take to help your loved one feel better before, during, and after the holiday season. 

Create a Healthy Schedule

Trying to structure and schedule things reliably and consistently during the holidays can be a nightmare. But you can still help make an impact in your life or your teen’s life by helping them develop a basic schedule to keep things going during most of the holidays. 

Even when it’s something as simple as giving them cutoff hours for social gatherings if they tend to get overstimulated past a limit, or helping them continue to schedule things like studying, practice, and hobbies even during the holidays. Help keep structure alive by sticking to curfews and the usual wake-up calls to avoid oversleeping or deteriorating sleep schedules. 

Carve Time for Peace and Quiet

Teens with a lower tolerance for the stressors of the season will have tighter boundaries for how much they can interact and engage with before it takes a toll on their mental health. That may mean giving them the option to opt-out of things – and putting an emphasis on the fact that they can do so without stigma, and without judgment. 

This doesn’t mean you’ll leave them at home for the Christmas party. But maybe you’ll spend a little less time at the party, or host it at your house, so they can still spend time with family, and withdraw to their room when they need a little time away from people. 

It can be difficult to balance between isolation and social overstimulation. Everyone has their own limits. 

Sleep is Critical

Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule throughout the holiday season can be maddening, but will go an immensely long way towards improving your teen’s mood and mental state throughout the holidays. The power of quality sleep at appropriate hours should never be underestimated. 

Seeking Assistance

A healthier, balanced approach to the holiday season can help reduce the impact of its stressors, and potentially dial down how much the holidays can exacerbate a person’s symptoms. But that isn’t often enough to substitute professional help. Teens with social anxiety or seasonal affective disorder will still feel uncomfortable and stressed throughout the holidays. To help, consider creating a careful and tailored approach with their therapist. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with the thought of the upcoming holiday season, it’s worth talking to a pro. Support your loved one in getting help today.

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Mental Health

7 Ways to Keep Teens Mentally Healthy During Summer Break

It’s summertime! For a lot of kids, that means beach parties, late-night dancing, sleeping in, and literally just about anything that isn’t schoolwork. But for a lot of kids, the routine and structure of school – while not always as good as it could be – plays an important role in helping them stay grounded and feel mentally stable.

Structure and routine are important for many of us, and without time-based boundaries and schedules, we can find ourselves struggling to get anything done, waste entire days on solitary activities, and watch the summer roll on by. Not all teens jump at the opportunity to start planning activities, meeting friends, and hanging out with new people. Many spend the next few weeks mostly in their room, with serious sleep schedule problems, and a snowballing case of anxiety.

If you’re looking for tips to help your teen stay mentally healthy throughout the summer break, you’ve come to the right place. At its root, it’s all about structure. That doesn’t mean forcing your teen into a rigid schedule, not of their own making – but it might mean pushing them to pursue their interests, helping them schedule activities with friends, or teaching them a few basic life skills, whether it’s how to make soup, change a tire, or drive stick. Here are a few other ideas.

Spend More Time Outdoors

It’s a bit of a cliché, especially with how people online are telling each other to go “touch grass” when an online conversation gets a bit too out of touch with reality, but the outdoors has a lot more to offer teens than just being an alternative to spending the day in front of a screen. There are genuine health benefits, both physical and mental, to getting a lot of sunlight during the summer break, breathing in some fresh seaside or countryside air, and going for a hike or two.

Even just the act of being out in nature amid the greenery of a verdant plain or lush mountain forest can do wonders for our psychological wellbeing, and at this point, scientists have told us multiple times that we need a lot more nature in our lives, especially for teens (and parents!) who are living mostly in or around urban environments.

Tackle a Project Together

When your hands work on something completely new, and you begin to sink hours into a manual project you’re invested in, you’re tapping into an incredible resource – your brain. Any hobby that requires you to think and forge ahead, to figure out solutions to problems, to come up with new ways to move forward, and to improve on something that already works, brings with it an immense amount of satisfaction and genuine neurological benefits. Like anything else, your brain is the kind of thing that works best when you’re using it, a lot.

If your teen isn’t already interested in a hobby that fosters that kind of thinking – such as sculpting or writing, making their own music, writing programs for fun, or working on engines – why not tackle something like that together? Pick a project you might both have some fun with and set aside a few hours every week to do it together. It could be something from your own line of work or personal hobby – maybe you own a 3D printer, or you like to fix old record players, or you write and record music at home – or something you suspect your teen might be into!

Develop a New Life Skill

Aside from fostering or encouraging your teen to pick up new hobbies or invest more heavily into existing ones, you can also help teach them important life skills. It could be something incredibly boring, like writing a balance sheet and doing basic accounting, or filling out a tax return. Or it could be something more manual, like making pizza from scratch, doing an oil change, fixing a leaky faucet, starting a campfire. You could take courses together – learn how to make sushi over the weekend or attend a first aid course.

Help Your Teen Create and Maintain a Routine

We’ve already mentioned how important it is to get into a routine – that doesn’t mean your teen should account for every hour of the day! But it goes a long way to set a general bedtime and wake time, eat at about the same times each day, leave a slot open each day for journaling and chores, or use other things to help give your teen structure, such as encouraging them to continue their sport or physical passion while out of school.

Encourage Your Teen to Spend Time With Other People

There are restrictions to consider and limitations to this option based on whether your teen meets up with their friends indoors or outdoors, whether everyone is vaccinated, and what the rates are like where you live – but we have come a long way since the restrictions of the first few months of the pandemic, yet it has certainly left its mark on many teens, especially those who were already inclined towards being introverted when COVID-19 began. It might be hard to do so, but try to encourage your teen to come out of their shell and spend some in-person time with their friends again.

More Physical Activities

A nice hike or a visit to the beach is great, but regular physical exercise – on daily basis, even if just for a few minutes – is another great way to make use of the summertime’s longer daylight and copious supply of vitamin D. If your teen isn’t the athletic type, why not work out with them? Take them on a jog or a daily bike ride or renew your gym membership and hit the weights together.

What About Other Classes?

School might be out, but that doesn’t mean your teen can’t keep learning. Neither does that mean you need to organize cram school and make them prep for the SATs! Especially if they’ve been desperately looking forward to summer as a chance to get some rest and not keep their head in the books.

However, there are plenty of afternoon classes for a variety of interesting subjects during summer, from self-defense to music. Let them pick something out! It may be an unusual summer break, with a looming late-stage pandemic up and about. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of it, together – and help both your teen and you have a better summer.

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Mental Health

Loudly, Proudly Supporting LGBTQIA+ Teens

Pride Month has highlighted the dangers of being part of the LGBTQIA+ in the United States, the importance of teaching empathy to teens as they find themselves confused about LGBTQIA+ peers, and the necessity to highlight and uplift those who continue to stand proud as LGBTQIA+ in a toxic climate. This Pride Month, let’s examine how parents and other adults can contribute to helping LGBTQIA+ teens embrace their identities and help other teens be more accepting of their peers. As with most behaviors and habits, it all starts in the home.

What Does Your Teen Think?

A habit that can help parents and adults connect with teens and better understand how they currently see the world is to ask them questions. For example, when watching a TV show together, or when your teen shows you a video or meme, ask them what they think about it. Avoid immediately shutting them down for their opinion or declaring your own in contrast. Instead, please take a moment to think about what they’ve said and try to continue an honest conversation about why your teen feels the way they do.

Sometimes, teenagers share and laugh at offensive content or so-called “edgy” jokes. They might also share and laugh at homophobic content, sexist content, or so-called “non-PC” content. On the surface, we’ve all been exposed to offensive humor, and it’s generally accepted that nothing is taboo when it comes to jokes and satire. But even jokes can have an immediate impact on the people they’re centered on. For example, rape jokes leave women feeling more anxious and vulnerable and lead men to take rape less seriously.

Teens are potentially drawn to this kind of humor because it’s usually new to them for a time. But taking the time to have an honest conversation with your teen about this kind of content might help you make them think about the deeper implications of sharing it with others, especially those it seeks to make fun of. Of course, the goal isn’t to police how your teen thinks or what they should watch.

It is to help them develop a resistance to hateful rhetoric and recognize where they might want to draw a line when making fun of someone else personally. There are differences between offensive humor that help highlight the ridiculousness and poor rhetoric of certain racist or stereotypical sentiments and humor that makes the offense itself its only punchline. Instead of reprimanding your teen for their opinions, try to understand them and think about how you might be able to convince them to have an open mind about other people.

Be Open to Learn More

Parents continue to be a central influence on their teens, even if it doesn’t feel like that sometimes. While it is true that teens pay a lot of attention to what their peers think and like, parental influence is an overarching factor that even plays a role in what peers a teen will associate with. In other words, sometimes, a teen’s choices in peers serve to reinforce what they’ve learned at home.

To that end, being a good role model for your children continues to be important even later in their life, as they approach adulthood. If you want to leave a legacy of acceptance and empathy in your children, consider how your own actions and behaviors can be interpreted, and what you’ve done to contribute to decreasing victimization at school, home, or in the community, or confronting bigotry and hateful speech.

An Inclusive Environment

Regardless of whether your teen identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ or wishes to be an ally, a big part of helping shape an inclusive mindset is to practice empathy and inclusion at home. Teens from all backgrounds are in the process of asking themselves who they are and developing an identity. They will worry, one way or the other, about being acceptable to others, about how they will be received by their friends and family, and about tailoring themselves to avoid victimization.

Make sure your children understand that they have the right to be themselves and that you’re here to foster a healthy environment for them to grow up in, rather than dictate who they should be as they age. Ask yourself if you’re trying to mold your child into what you perceive to be the right way to be, or if you’re open to raising someone you might personally disagree with but still want to love and support. If you aren’t sure that your home environment is helping your teen truly be themselves, you might want to try and find ways to connect with your child and ensure that they aren’t afraid of being themselves in front of you.

It’s Okay to Take Your Time

Parents may have a harder time adjusting to new information and taking in new ideas than their teens. But, on the other hand, they benefit from the wisdom that age, experience, and hindsight bring. Sometimes, parents feel tempted to polarize their positions because of how their teens might act when faced with a disagreeing opinion. Still, we want to encourage you to take your time to go through these topics at your own pace, inform yourself, and be open to new information.

Resources for Parents of LGBTQIA+ Teens

If you want to hear from other parents with LGBTQIA+ teens, or want to learn more about how LGBTQIA+ youth can be uplifted in the United States, here are a couple of key organizations and resources to get you started:

Building a better attitude towards other people is something you can start doing today – but it takes time for any single person’s efforts to result in real change. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can help to think about how your actions and habits play a role in impacting the life of your teen – whether to help them develop greater empathy skills, teach them to broaden their horizons or help them feel empowered to be themselves and embrace what they were born with.

Teens who identify as LGBTQIA+ face more vitriol and hate today than ten years ago. This Pride Month, let us celebrate and embolden them to embrace who they are, speak out against victimization and bigotry, and help our teens and friends learn to be more accepting of one another.

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Mental Health

Beyond Pride Month: Fostering Values of Inclusion & Unbiased Attitudes in Teens

Teens who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ are statistically more likely to struggle with depression, victimization, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts (as well as actions) than their heterosexual, cisgender (i.e., same gender and sex) peers. Of course, being different from the rest of society has its distinct downsides, especially for kids trying to figure out what their place in the world might be and realize that that place comes with a lot of judgment, victimization, and abuse. Nevertheless, as adults, we have a role to play in society as behavioral models for our kids and their peers.

For example, one of the most basic rules of proper etiquette in society is to respect other people’s boundaries and do unto them only as you’d want done unto yourself. But in many cases, just not hurting others might not be enough. We can sometimes take a more proactive role in being allies to kids and teens who find themselves victimized by others and welcome kids and teens who might identify with different gender identities or expressions than the rest of society into our friend and family circles.

What Does Being an Ally Mean?

By being allies, we also teach our kids that it’s important to call out oppressive or victimizing behavior, educate and inform ourselves on what it means to be a productive and helpful ally, and be empathic towards others, regardless of race or gender. So being an ally is about more than just tolerating or being indifferent towards LGBTQIA+ teens.

It’s about providing support and advocacy as well, by standing up for them, giving them the space to speak up when that space is taken away, and putting our own voices behind our LGBTQIA+ peers as they fight for better healthcare, equal rights, the same job opportunities, an equal education, and less discrimination in public.

Your Role as an Ally Parent

Raising a teen ally means modeling ally behavior – by fostering the values of inclusion, empathy, and unbiased attitudes. Encourage questions, help your kids seek out information, educate yourself alongside your children, and actively take part in helping your child learn more about different cultures, ethnicities, religions, traditions, and practices. Teach your children that they can and should stand up for what’s fair and what’s right.

Empathy and compassion are not weaknesses but strengths – abilities that require putting others before oneself, recognizing the importance of selfless actions, and how we all have a responsibility to make this world a little bit easier to live in as a people. You can help encourage your teen to be more empathic by modeling empathic behavior yourself. Donate more time to neighborhood causes. Extend a helping hand more often. Become a volunteer. Hand out resources. Start honest conversations with your teen about how people are treated and how they treat others.

Take Advantage of the Power of Books

Research shows that when we begin to immerse ourselves in the viewpoints and experiences of others, we start to expand our empathic horizons – we see things from a different perspective and begin to build a worldview of inclusion. Human stories are compelling and help us learn more about how other people have lived and continue to live, whether right here at home in halfway across the globe.

Tap into the power of books and encourage reading stories from different cultures from a young age. After reading a book with your child, ask them questions that might help them further put themselves into someone else’s shoes. You can even explore different cultures together without the luxury of travel (especially in these difficult times) by trying out recipes and traditions from different parts of the world. Foster your child’s curiosity through an expanded view of the world.

People worldwide live in different ways, under different conditions, and prize different things – yet there are many ways in which we’re fundamentally the same, from our love of food and dance to the value of mutual respect, cultural heritage, and family. Reading a variety of books can also help your teen understand that there is no such thing as an ideal family. Every family can be a good family, and family diversity is an increasingly important topic as more and more families in the US become blended. In addition, the nuclear family becomes increasingly less common.

Focus on Empathy

Above all else, this Pride Month, becoming allies (or helping our teens become allies) centers around realizing the power and strength behind true empathy and compassion. Unfortunately, some teens seem to misunderstand taking other people’s feelings into account as a sign of weakness. But it takes immense strength to consider someone else’s pain and try to help them despite not being in their shoes.

It takes intelligence and a strong will to reject stereotypes and think for oneself. Being an ally is just about making sure that those around us who are least likely to be treated like normal human beings get the treatment they deserve – to feel normal and be accepted as people, just as they are, without being forced to sanitize their identity or make themselves more palatable to avoid bigotry.

Never Underestimate Parental Influence

Sure, peer influence is powerful – but kids, including teens, still base much of themselves on their parents, whether they like it or not. Your role as a parent should never be diminished – you have incredible influence over how your child acts and thinks, as well as over how they see the world, for better and for worse. The first step to helping your child become more compassionate is to look in the mirror.

That being said, it also doesn’t hurt to recognize and accept that change comes from within and takes time, even in teens. Teenagers are still developing both emotionally and mentally. They may not have the necessary tools to fully understand their place and role in the world and the value and importance of considering others. Some teens might be more predisposed towards such thoughts and feelings than others. Be patient and be a good role model.

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Mental Health

Honoring LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2021 With Rainbows, Glitter Galore & Reflection

June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month every year, honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots, a milestone in the gay liberation movement, and LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States. Yet despite advances in LGBTQIA+ rights, LGBTQIA+ youth and adults continue to face harassment and discrimination for their gender identity and sexuality. In fact, the statistics for hate crimes against trans individuals have actually gone up significantly in recent years. Despite the legalization of same-sex marriages and acknowledging the gay community in establishment politics, the anti-LGBTQIA+ bias persists in the job market, medicine, schools, and society.

Part of the impact of widespread victimization towards LGBTQIA+ teens includes an increased risk for mental health issues and a greater risk for substance use. LGBTQIA+ youth – trans youth in particular – have higher suicide rates than the general population and lack access to adequate mental health resources. This year, we need to find ways to do better – and empower our children to become the adults they want to be while ensuring that the world around them begins to treat them just as well as any heterosexual and cisgender adult.

LGBTQIA+ and the Importance of Mental Health Advocacy

Mental health resources are more critical than ever, particularly to older teens, who are most at risk of developing mental health issues due to the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers have identified that because older teens are less reliant on their parents than younger children and lack the established and lifelong social bonds that older adults have had before the start of the pandemic, the impact of long-term loneliness and a lack of human contact during the coronavirus pandemic is often much more severe for them. A strained healthcare system also means fewer Americans have had access to the mental healthcare resources they need.

Research from the Trevor Project has also brought to light that LGBTQIA+ youth continue to have a harder time getting access to the resources they need. Of the 35,000 teens and young adults aged 13 to 24 that the organization surveyed, a dire 42 percent reported contemplating suicide in December 2020. The number was higher among trans and nonbinary teens, at 52 percent. By recognizing the need for better and easier access to mental healthcare, as well by addressing discrimination in the healthcare industry, we can ensure that our teens and future generations can benefit from advances in psychiatric medicine and treatment and get the help they need to enjoy a better quality of life, even when faced with severe mood disorders or substance use disorder.

Participating in Pride Month 2021

While the world is still far from having recovered from the pandemic, there are organized Pride events in the US this year. There are many ways to safely attend these events, either virtually or by attending small gatherings and staying socially distant. You can find a Pride event near you online and inform yourself of the requirements and restrictions around the event nearest to you. Or you can join in virtually.

Helping LGBTQIA+ Youth Find Local Resources

This Pride Month, take the time to find and share local and national resources for the mental healthcare of at-risk LGBTQIA+ youth through the following links, as well as state resources.

Take Time for Yourself

This year should also be a time for reflection. Many of us have raced from week to week to survive, make ends meet, or figure out our next steps. Let’s take this Pride Month to consider the impact of the last year and reevaluate our own needs – whether as teens and students, as young working adults, or as parents. Each of us has had to make compromises due to COVID-19, and we have all felt the effects of the pandemic in one way or another – whether through the death of a loved one, the strain on society, the economy, or through healthcare. Statistics show that mental health issues are slated to grow across the board due to the pandemic and that the effects of the ensuing “mental health epidemic” will be felt for years to come. Take the time to address or figure out your needs – and take preventative steps or talk with a professional.

More Than Homophobia

Most people would agree that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this statement: heterosexuality is the norm in society. However, the impact of assigning a “norm” to gender and sexuality can be harmful to some, especially young teens, who are in the middle of trying to fit into the world and are quickly learning that their existence is “not normal” and is considered uncomfortable to some people. One of the elements of Pride is attempting to help those who feel self-conscious about their identity learn to embrace it, accept it, and feel proud despite some people’s reactions. We need to be conscious of how young people whose identities are seen as uncomfortable or “not normal” can harm them.

Because we live in a heteronormative world, much of society is structured around differentiating between heterosexuality and everything else. Until recently, non-heterosexual representation was tough to come by, and to this day, there is serious stress associated with coming out and making one’s relationships public. Being non-heterosexual and non-cisgender often singles one out. There’s nothing wrong or problematic with acknowledging that heterosexuality is more common than other sexual identities. But that shouldn’t stop heterosexual and cisgender parents and friends from considering how the world might feel exclusionary to their loved ones and how they might need to be empowered to rise above that fact.

Looking for Help?

If you are looking for ways to help someone with signs of depression or anxiety, it may be a good idea to speak to them about getting in touch with a professional. Sometimes, teens don’t get the help they need because they aren’t sure who or how to ask for it.

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Mental Health

Key Takeaways From New Research on Teen Social Isolation

The coronavirus has had an enduring and horrific impact on the world, claiming the lives of over three million people as of May 2021 while ushering in an unprecedented global economic crisis. Experts agree that the long-term impact of the virus is immeasurable and sure to be felt for years to come – and in more ways than one.

Included in the long-term damage is the untold mental impact of coronavirus on teen social isolation that we have had to impose to curb its spread. Since the beginning of the pandemic, countries worldwide have instated different lockdown measures to reduce infection rates, including curfews and guarded checkpoints, enforced social distancing, mandated mask-wearing, and the closing of schools, restaurants, and bars.

The full impact of quarantine, social isolation, and the pandemic on youth mental health remains to be seen. However, the preliminary research and anecdotal observations suggest a coming tidal wave of behavioral health needs among youth, especially late teens and young adults. While social distancing measures and lockdowns may have helped combat the virus, it may have triggered a so-called loneliness pandemic.

Impact of Teen Social Isolation and Loneliness in the Wake of COVID-19

Feelings of loneliness and isolation have gone up drastically following the beginning of the pandemic, with up to 61 percent of Americans aged 18 to 25 reporting high levels, even more than among the elderly. This paints a very troubling picture when combined with the information from the CDC claiming that 63 percent of young people in the US were reporting signs of anxiety and depression as early as June 2020.

Some researchers stipulate that the reason older teens, in particular, are struck by the social isolation imposed due to the coronavirus is that many of them were in the process of transitioning from their family lives into new and different environments and are thus missing the established relationships and close contacts that both younger and older people have access to throughout the pandemic.

In other words, teens caught in the middle of their transition into adulthood are effectively “floating” between their given and chosen social groups. This further hints at the importance of established contacts and relationships as guardrails against the impact of teen social isolation in a viral pandemic. Furthermore, young people are also at a critical juncture in their lives regarding both their personal life and their professional future.

The uncertainty painted by a pandemic throws any planning out of the window, which translates to an enormous amount of stress. In addition, as with many other mental health issues, teen social isolation and feelings of loneliness tend to exist in the form of downward spirals. This means that the thoughts and feelings introduced by increased isolation and loneliness during the pandemic can quickly devolve into self-defeating and self-loathing emotions and the onset of anxious and depressive symptoms including (but not limited to):

    • Low mood
    • Low energy
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Lack of motivation
    • Struggling to function
    • Struggling to seek out social interaction

Teens and young adults without an existing robust social infrastructure are most at risk. This includes those living alone, those between schools, those without a source of employment, those living away from friends and family/those who had recently moved to a new area.

Teens Are at a Higher Risk of Developing PTSD

A review of the impact of the COVID-19 policies shows that teens experiencing social isolation after lockdown are at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and other severe anxiety issues. This data is supported by previous studies examining the effects of teen social isolation following a natural disaster, with research compiled over the course of two decades.

Even more worrying is the finding that teens whose social lives have been completely halted by the virus are at greater risk of turning to other things as a way of coping with the pain and anxiety – including drugs. As a result, some experts are warning of a nationwide spike in addiction.

This is not an isolated phenomenon – the same issue was seen in the areas left devastated by Hurricane Katrina, where survivors were much more likely to face substance use issues with cigarettes and alcohol. In addition, some studies show that even after the emotional and behavioral problems following a natural disaster begin to fade, the alcohol use issues remain.

Access to Mental Health Resources Is Limited

Despite expanding telehealth services throughout the country, few teens are getting the help they need for their mental health. The World Health Organization estimated that over 90 percent of countries experienced stopgaps and interruptions in the availability of critical mental health services following the beginning of the pandemic. Moreover, even before the pandemic, the average investment in mental health resources per country was less than two percent of the national health budget.

Aside from social isolation, the pandemic weighs heavily on our minds in the form of loss and grief, job loss, broken families and businesses, exacerbated chronic or pre-existing health conditions, massive financial casualties, increased drug use, and more. In addition, the coronavirus has highlighted how unprepared we are for something of its caliber – not just in the way of physical healthcare but mental health as well.

The Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health

One of the most frightening aspects of how the pandemic impacts today’s youth is that we aren’t sure how these months will shape this generation’s future. However, we know that loneliness and social isolation in adolescent years can contribute to the onset of major depressive disorder and other mood disorders up to nine years later. Substance use issues can stick around for even longer.

A Generation at Risk

Teens today are turning to tech as a means to communicate with one another and stay connected. However, this is often coming at the cost of less sleep and less exercise. For example, a report on the use of social media among adolescents during the pandemic shows that nearly two-thirds of teens report little to no physical activity and continue to use their phones past bedtime.

We need to continue to support our teens and help them develop healthier coping mechanisms to combat the effects of prolonged social isolation and a lack of face-to-face contact during the pandemic. Shaming them for behavior is counterproductive – but so is doing nothing. If you’re worried about your child, speak with a teen mental health professional today. It takes time, support, and a structured approach to combat mental health issues – whether in the early days or long after their onset.

Categories
Mental Health

Genetic Factors in Teenage Mental Health

Teenage mental health issues arise from a combination of internal and external conditions, defined as risk factors. These risk factors help explain why someone’s child might have developed symptoms of a mood disorder, a substance use disorder, or a psychotic disorder. In addition, they can help explain the roles that both a person’s circumstances and their own physiological quirks played in the onset of disordered behavior and thinking, the kind that lowers the quality of life, disrupts relationships, and much more.

One of the most significant factors behind the development and onset of a diagnosed mental health condition is a teen’s genes. Many of the neurological characteristics that might enable or lead to disordered thinking can be, and are, inherited. Mental health issues begin in the brain, and some people’s brains are more likely to combat disordered or unhealthy thoughts throughout their lifetime. This can mean that, depending on the condition, one in two, five, or ten direct relatives to someone with a mental health issue may one day be diagnosed with that same condition.

But it’s not quite as simple as just saying that we all have the potential to inherit the same conditions as our parents, siblings, or cousins. There are many other risk factors at play and protective factors, unexpected triggers, and ranges in severity. And above all else, a diagnosis is far from a final judgment. Nevertheless, everyone diagnosed with a mental health issue can, with enough care and support, enjoy a normal and fulfilling life, manage the symptoms of their condition, and find the right treatment plan to help them cope.

Teenage Mental Health and Genetics

We are beginning to unravel how our own inherited physiology can affect mental health through abnormal gene expression and the presence of specific genetic markers. In addition, some conditions seem more susceptible to hereditability than others in the sense that teens may be more likely to struggle with certain conditions later in life if their close relatives were diagnosed with them.

But genetics is still only one piece of the puzzle, albeit a large one. So it is important not to get fixated and lose the forest for the trees. While genes may affect how our brains work and may act as an immutable risk factor in the long term, we need to understand that the use in knowing this is to preempt certain conditions through protective factors.

Knowing that our children may be more likely to struggle with certain health issues than the general population can help us ensure that their environment prepares them through positive relationships, the availability of mental health resources at school and within the community, a strong support network, healthy self-esteem, early social skills building, the development of good coping mechanisms, and more.

The Hereditability of Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are two of the most diagnosed mental disorders in the world. It is important to understand and distinguish between emotion and disorder – while feeling sad and worried is normal and healthy under most circumstances, teens struggling with depression or anxiety are experiencing unhealthy and disordered thoughts that can influence behavior, causing self-isolation, self-harm, suicidal ideation, irritability, conflict at home and in school, and more.

We know that there are genetic influences on the development of depression in teens and that genes and gene expression play a role in the severity of a teen’s mood disorder. The same can be said for anxiety symptoms. But many other factors contribute to the development of these conditions. Likewise, certain factors can help prevent or reduce the severity of symptoms – or help improve treatment success.

Predisposition and Chance

There are always ways to beat the odds. In this case, statistics can help us recognize patterns – and preempt problems. When you understand that family history plays a role in your teen’s mental health, you can take measures to help ensure that your teen has access to everything they need to inform themselves about what their thoughts and feelings might mean. It’s important not to misinterpret a slight predisposition as some predetermination – and wait for the day your teen will wake up with a mental disorder.

It’s a much more complex process, and onset can be slow or subtle. Some teens go through hell and manage to cope – and there are teens from loving homes who eventually struggle with panic attacks and severe anxiety. The human mind is a complicated thing – and sometimes the best we can do as caregivers, parents, and therapists, is to hope for the best and do our best.

Risk Factors and Protective Factors

We have covered that genetics and family history play a role in developing different teenage mental health issues, down to specific genes often associated with one or more conditions (including common comorbidities). But there are other risk factors – and more importantly, many protective factors – worth discussing. Common risk factors include:

    • Brain damage
    • Stressful life events
    • Traumatic experiences
    • Victimization (bullying)
    • Unhealthy relationships
    • Another mental health issue
    • A physical chronic health condition
    • Social isolation (few or no relationships)
    • Frequent substance use (including alcohol)

Protective factors help improve mental wellbeing and reduce the risk of a mental health condition. They can also help reduce the severity of symptoms and improve the efficacy of treatment. Some protective factors include:

    • Physical activity
    • High self-esteem
    • Positive parental bonds
    • Social capital within the community
    • Connectedness and belonging at school
    • Social support (from friends and family)
    • Playing a role in the community (sense of belonging)
    • Living environment (housing quality, air quality, local crime rate)

Seeking Teenage Mental Health Help

At the end of the day, we may all need help in one form or another. Teens who struggle with mental health issues need specific kinds of help. This can range from taking an anti-depressant to visiting a therapist once a week or considering an inpatient/residential program. Mental health conditions always require a holistic approach – meaning different teens and different conditions need different treatments, ones that also consider co-occurring health issues (both mental and physical), family and social life, school problems, bullying, and drug use.