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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.

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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.

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Mental Health

Managing Mental Health in College

For most teens, the transition from high school to college is an immensely stressful one. There are many new freedoms, opportunities, and exciting futures to explore – but they come with greater responsibilities and expectations, new environments, and plenty of unfamiliar faces. College days can be fun, but they can be punctuated by overwhelming course loads, frustrating schedules, and sleepless nights. Throughout all of this, it’s important to learn how to manage your mental health in college. A few simple habits and a couple of rules can go a long way.

You Don’t Need to Drink

A few myths surround the typical college lifestyle – but the ubiquity of alcohol isn’t one of them. The pandemic aside, statistics on college drinking show that most students consume alcohol regularly, with as many as a third engaging in binge drinking at least once a month. But you don’t need to drink with the others to fit in. There’s nothing wrong with learning your limits.

Still, if you have a history of alcohol use, a family history of alcoholism, or are currently struggling with the stresses of college life, it would be best for both your mental and physical health to stay sober. Not only does frequent binge drinking do major damage to your organs, but it also affects brain development and cognition. In addition, it can lead to co-occurring substance use issues in teens struggling with a diagnosed mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, or untreated ADHD.

Watch Your Coping Styles

College can be stressful, and teens need to find their own ways to cope with that. Late nights, tough deadlines, expectant professors, and the social stress of a new and strange environment means finding outlets for all that pressure. Some coping mechanisms are healthier than others. Some are downright harmful.

Consider how your coping mechanisms are affecting you in the long term, as well as those around you. The habits you build in college can end up shaping a better part of your life, including the way you deal with stress. If you’re at a loss for positive coping mechanisms, consider giving the following a try:

    • Setting a weekly budget.
    • Cleaning an area of your room.
    • Owning and caring for a little plant.
    • Watching some standup or comedies.
    • Picking up a new skill during downtime.
    • Setting a simple sleep ritual to fall asleep quickly.
    • Making time for your hobbies and personal pursuits.
    • Setting consistent mealtimes and avoiding snacking.

Keep Track of How You’re Feeling

Journaling can be a helpful way for you to keep track of how you’re feeling over a period and bring along a written log of your ups and downs, should you need a record for a professional diagnosis. But the act of writing alone can help provide a great deal of catharsis for many teens struggling to verbalize otherwise or process their emotions.

It’s also a way to monitor your symptoms and discuss them with a therapist. You can use journaling not just to take note when you’ve had a terrible day but to work through exactly what it is that made it so bad. For example, oftentimes, you might realize that you didn’t have as much reason to be upset as you were – or you might feel a little better that you had some way to express your frustrations and vent a little without involving someone else.

Seek Out Local Mental Health Resources

While college is an important time to work on independence and self-reliance, we aren’t meant to go through life without help and support along the way. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the mental health resources available to you, from counseling to referred therapists. Learn about your school’s policies for disabilities due to mental health, medical leave, accommodations for students with certain difficulties, and the level of confidentiality guaranteed to students.

Get an Exercising Buddy

Physical health is important for mental health, and there are distinct therapeutic benefits to regular exercise. But it can be especially hard for someone with mental health issues to stay consistent with their physical health. One way to overcome this problem is by finding someone to work out with, either in person or virtually.

You can push one another to take the time to get moving a few times a week and keep track of one another. Unfortunately, it can get too much to try and motivate yourself to stay committed to an exercise plan while struggling with the stress. Still, you’ll find that even just half an hour a day spent getting active can help you study and retain information, avoid procrastination, and cope better.

Keep Your Days Structured

Downtime can be especially difficult, as can a loose schedule. Sometimes, just having a reason to get up in the morning can make the difference between an awful day and a decent start. Create a schedule around your course load and interests, make room for rest and recreation, and structure your daily obligations.

Utilize Your Privileges

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be entitled to certain accommodations and special education services under your school’s mental health program, especially for community colleges managing mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs.

If you have made use of such programs during high school, you can bring any relevant paperwork over during the transition period to discuss your options in college with the administrators responsible for your accommodations. But, again, try to identify your core needs, gather the reports and doctor’s notes you might need to explain your condition, as well as how you’ve managed it in the past, and how it can affect your studies.

Consider a Medical Leave

If necessary, you might want to consider temporarily requesting a leave of absence during your semester to seek medical help for managing mental health in college, particularly if things have gotten worse during college or if you have developed different symptoms during your time on campus. Different schools have different policies and protocols for medical leave due to mental health issues and different levels of financial aid (i.e., refunded fees, grace periods, etc.).

Be sure to discuss these with your school and therapist. Many students are currently completing their courses from home while the pandemic is ongoing. College life these days has its own completely different set of challenges and problems, especially with the social isolation and deaths caused by COVID. It’s important to prioritize your mental health in college and seek help. Consider teletherapy counseling or an appropriate outpatient program.

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Mental Health

Understanding and Identifying Teen Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders have a relatively high prevalence yet are also easily one of the most misunderstood psychiatric conditions in the general public’s eyes. Dissociative disorders are characterized by a disconnection from reality following a traumatic experience. Dissociation in a clinical sense can take on many different forms – but it is best described as a state of mind that allows a person to break away from the past and present and become separated from their pain.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of people with a dissociative disorder have an additional psychiatric diagnosis, from depression or anxiety to substance abuse. According to data pulled from several countries, dissociative disorders are estimated to affect about 1 to 5 percent of the general population. One study on teens seeking help at an outpatient psychiatric facility estimated that as many as 45 percent were struggling with a dissociative disorder of some form.

What Is a Dissociative Disorder?

Dissociative disorders are a class of conditions defined as problems with the following:

    • Memory
    • Identity
    • Emotion
    • Perception
    • Behavior
    • Sense of self

In a sense, mild dissociation is a common occurrence, one most people experience. For example, many of us may have daydreamed at some point, gotten lost in our thoughts, or experienced a form of “highway hypnosis.” However, dissociative disorders describe behavior and symptoms that are much more severe.

Dissociative disorders are pervasive across settings and disrupt nearly every aspect of life. Teens struggling with a dissociative disorder aren’t just aloof. Still, they may appear completely changed after a traumatic event, to the point that they seem like a different person, either due to the coping behaviors they’ve adopted or due to lapses and holes in their memory.

Types of Teen Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders are split into three different diagnoses:

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

In cases of dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder (MPD), a teen will switch between two or more enduring personalities. These are not just different behaviors but give the impression of being several distinct people. However, in DID cases, a teen is not actually inhabited by multiple persons or “alters” but has instead constructed different personalities to cope with their past.

Sometimes, these personalities are not necessarily human. Instead, they may each have their own set of memories. The overwhelming majority of people diagnosed with DID have experienced overpowering and often recurring trauma, usually before age 6. While dissociative disorders may be more common than we suspect, rates for DID remain around 1 percent. Another major symptom is gaps in memory, far more than regular forgetfulness.

Dissociative Amnesia (DA)

Dissociative amnesia (DA) is a more common form of dissociation and may involve blocking out information that would otherwise be consciously available after a traumatic event. However, such information would often still be subconsciously affecting one’s behavior and decision-making. For example, someone who was victimized in a closet may have an intense aversion towards opening closets or being inside them without remembering why.

Dissociative amnesia is usually diagnosed after trauma, in cases where gaps in memory or amnesia cannot be explained by another potential cause (such as brain trauma, intoxication, or the intake of certain memory-affecting substances (including surgical anesthetics). Dissociative amnesia is often either localized (not being able to recall an entire event or period), selective (not being able to recall certain portions of an event or period) or generalized (not being able to remember anything about themselves and their history).

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder (DPDR)

Teens diagnosed with depersonalization/derealization disorder (DPDR) are either experiencing symptoms of feeling like they’re living life in the third person, from someone else’s perspective (depersonalization), or they might seem intensely aloof, isolated, and disconnected from the world around them (derealization).

As with other dissociative disorders, DPDR is often the result of trauma but can occur alongside neurological problems such as seizure disorders or neurological damage after prolonged drug use (particularly hallucinogens, marijuana, or ketamine). Most DPDR symptoms are experienced episodically rather than consistently. They are recurring over the years, however, and onset is usually around age 16.

Other conditions may feature depersonalization or dissociation as part of their list of symptoms (schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders) and others closely related to dissociative disorders (acute and post-traumatic stress disorder).

Recognizing Teen Dissociative Disorders

Your teen may be experiencing a dissociative disorder if they often display severe gaps in memory, seem to be mentally somewhere else, have suddenly become emotionless at times, seem disconnected from reality, appear to be switching between distinct personalities, or are behaving very strangely, moving around almost automatically, and describing themselves as having no control.

Dissociative disorders can be difficult to treat, and a professional diagnosis is always needed before a treatment plan can be formulated. In addition, most teens with a dissociative disorder are also struggling with a co-occurring mental health condition, including depression, anxiety, stress disorders, or drug use. These co-occurring disorders can make treatment more difficult – but a holistic plan can help address them as well through a combination of talk therapy, pharmacology, and long-term care.

Teen Dissociative Disorders and Substance Abuse

Substance use disorder (SUD) is one of the most common co-occurring disorders among teens with dissociative disorders, in part because certain drugs can help teens better cope with their experiences. A case of SUD coupled with another mental health issue is often called a dual diagnosis. However, drugs are poor coping mechanisms and carry with them a slew of physical and mental downsides ranging from long-term organ damage to cognitive impairment, further memory problems, anxiety, and exacerbated dissociation.

How Are Teen Dissociative Disorders Treated?

Dissociative disorders are treated through a combination of trauma therapies, talk therapies, and medication in cases where co-occurring disorders require them. Unfortunately, there are no medications that effectively treat symptoms of dissociation. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe an antipsychotic drug, but most drugs prescribed to patients with dissociative disorders are antidepressants.

The bulk of treatment plans relies on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) based therapies and modalities. It can take several months for therapists to successfully help their teen patients reintegrate into their lives, reclaim different elements of their identity, and lead a more fulfilling life. Finding ways to cope healthily with the past is vital to the process and success of long-lasting recovery. Family and friends play a critical role herein and provide the fundamental backbone for long-term treatment as the teen’s support system.

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Mental Health Self-Care

Commemorating National Teen Self-Esteem Month in 2021 and Beyond

May is National Teen Self-Esteem Month! While we should take the time to commemorate the importance of building self-esteem in our children and our peers, building self-esteem is a matter of long-term consistency. So let us commit to lifting each other in 2021 and beyond.

Bridging the Gap Between Teen Self-Esteem and Mental Health

Adolescent self-esteem is a critical protective factor for good mental health – and crucially, low self-esteem is a common risk factor for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Self-esteem also plays a protective factor against attention problems (ADHD), although to a lesser degree. The effects of self-esteem on behavioral issues, however, are inconclusive.

Having a healthy and robust sense of self can help teens feel more secure in the face of certain stressors and be less prone to self-deprecating thoughts. However, just as self-esteem can help improve a teen’s mental health, it bears mentioning that teens who have a proclivity towards anxiety issues or depression (due to family history or environmental factors such as early trauma) will generally struggle with poorer self-image.

The two are intertwined, and addressing one can help address the other. But building up a person’s self-esteem is no easy task, regardless of whether the initiative comes from the inside (self-motivation) or the outside (a concerned friend or loved one). So, this May, we are encouraging teens, as well as friends, families, and communities, to take part in uplifting one another.

This year’s effort is significant, as teens face a mental health crisis unlike any we have seen in decades. Worse yet, we have no idea how this period of their lives will affect them in the years to come. Your contribution could be as simple as refraining from hypercritical comments or considering your words more carefully before you speak, or making helping a close friend develop in a way that might give them a personal boost to their self-esteem.

Teen Self-Esteem, Depression, and Anxiety

Mood disorders and anxiety disorders constitute most mental health diagnoses among teens. The most common ones include major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder, including low self-esteem as a major risk factor. While there are other factors behind the development and cause of these conditions, the link between self-image and mental health is undeniable, and it is often a two-way street.

Boosting teen self-esteem – or more practically, helping them boost their own self-esteem, may go a long way towards reducing or even preventing the development of a disorder, or at least majorly improving quality of life and helping prevent suicidal ideation.

It Starts With You

Our sense of self is a complicated thing, developed over the years through observation, social interaction, as well as our own inner headspace. A person’s voice can be naturally self-critical or conditioned that way over the years, and they may have a harder time registering or even accepting praise as genuine.

Others have a harder time recognizing their own flaws – or, in an ironic twist, possess such a fragile sense of self that they brutally lash out at even constructive criticisms. Learning to recognize and differentiate between healthy and problematic voices in our own head, at least with regards to how we treat ourselves and comment on our own thoughts and behavior, can help address self-esteem issues.

It might sound silly to start with the voice in your head, but just learning to identify the downward spiral before it goes completely out of control can be a good first step. It is healthy to be humble and reflective, but it is not healthy to constantly refer to yourself with harsh words or think in such negative extremes like “I’ll never amount to anything,” and “of course I couldn’t do it, I could never do something that great.”

Instead, consider rephrasing such sentiments. For example, “I’m just starting, and there’s a long and tough road ahead” is a much healthier response to an early stumble or initial failure. No one who has ever done anything great in their lives has gotten to where they got without many moments of self-doubt and failure. Similarly, “I didn’t get it this time, but I’ll keep trying” or “and that’s okay” are important sentiments, too.

Your Friends Matter

Unsurprisingly, who you surround yourself with can have an impact on how you feel, both about yourself and in general. We are all human and rely at least in part on each other to better understand how to think of ourselves – and if your “friends” or family include bullies and scolders, then you will find yourself becoming overly critical of not only your actions but your personality, your temperament, and immutable characteristics. This can lead to self-hate and depression. On the other hand, when those around us are patient with us and accepting, it teaches us to accept ourselves. Bullying does not make someone stronger – it breaks them down.

Learn to Set Better Goals and Expectations

Failure hurts, and a life well-lived will see many failures before any successes roll in. But that does not mean we should only ever set our sights on the stars. Instead, it is important to learn to set healthy and realistic goals and expectations and benefit from meeting them.

You do not have to look and move like an athlete, be a valedictorian, speak three languages, and play an instrument all at the same time. Instead, start with daily goals that you can consistently work towards, prioritize in a direction that interests you, work with your strengths and recognize (and accept) your weaknesses, and focus on being grateful for the things in life that go well for you.

Embrace the Power of Giving

Studies have shown that giving is a much more satisfying feeling than receiving – and it can go a long way towards helping you improve your self-esteem. We are not just talking about charity or good intentions. Making an effort to give your time to someone else, for free, whether by volunteering at a local organization or making a nice meal for your friends as a show of appreciation, generally makes us happier than receiving the same kindnesses from others.

Are you or a loved one struggling with self-esteem issues? Working on developing a healthier sense of self and being kinder towards yourself can go a long way, but some people struggle with thoughts and emotions that cannot be dealt with alone. It’s okay if you need help; we all do eventually! Thus, if you feel discouraged about asking for help, know that you are not alone! Get in touch with a mental health professional today.

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Mental Health

Honoring Mental Health Awareness Month 2021: “You Are Not Alone”

This May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness emphasizes an important message for Mental Health Awareness Month 2021: You Are Not Alone.

As of 2019, one in five American adults experienced mental disorders, and one in 20 American adults struggled with a serious mental health episode. Half of all lifetime mental disorders begin at age 14, highlighting the importance of supporting our teens as well. In addition, researchers believe that the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic are just beginning to unfold, meaning we may be on the horizon of a serious upward curve in our mental health crisis.

2020 had us all struggle with the isolation and sorrow wrought by a devastating pandemic. Besides the direct impact of COVID-19, many Americans continue to struggle with the measures used to combat the pandemic, from mandated lockdowns to strained healthcare resources. In 2020, NAMI launched the Tools 2 Thrive campaign, emphasizing the importance of safeguarding one’s mental health during the pandemic and building the toolkit to attend to one’s own mental needs.

2021 is about pulling together to reiterate the importance and power of community and family in treating and managing mental health issues and remind one another that we are not alone.

What Is Mental Health Awareness Month?

Mental Health Awareness Month, or the Mental Health Month, has been observed in the United States every May for the last 50 years. It has always been a time for mental health institutions in the country (and other parts of the world) to remind readers to care for one another, spread awareness of the ongoing struggles of people with mental health issues (particularly marginalized communities and minorities), and share resources that are effective in combatting mental health issues at home and throughout the community.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2021 takes place all month and will be honored through encouraged community-wide posts, shared personal stories and experiences, video and photo content, regular blog content from NAMI’s blog, and featured resources, featured warmlines, and featured organizations that help address ongoing mental health crises throughout the country.

NAMI’s Message: You Are Not Alone

After a year highlighted by isolation, NAMI’s message is specifically meant to guide people to the help they need by highlighting available support organizations and resources, driving home the importance of providing support to loved ones and fellow community members, and raising awareness on just how common certain mental health issues have become, including depression, anxiety, and a dual diagnosis of a mental disorder and substance use disorder.

Showing Your Support This Year

If you are interested in impacting mental health this year, consider getting involved directly through a donation of your time or money. Organizations that advocate for those struggling with mental health disorders include:

As well as state-specific mental health charities and local shelters, you can also volunteer your time and find local volunteering opportunities through your state or county’s respective Department of Health or Mental Health.

Share Your Story

This year, part of the event is sharing personal stories about facing and overcoming mental health struggles, whether through COVID or any other time, to help others understand that they are not alone.

Through the hashtags #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, #MentalHealthMonth, #MentalHealthMatters, and #NotAlone, people all over the country are encouraged to talk about the difficulties their diagnosis has caused them, the stigma and trials they’ve faced as a result of their condition, and the ways they’ve found help and support over the years.

NAMI will be featuring specific stories throughout the month, hoping that sharing these experiences will help readers feel a kinship with others who have had to walk a similar path and have found hope and help. COVID-19 has left many feeling isolated and alone, struggling to find a sense of community around them, particularly if they belong to a vulnerable group due to a different health condition.

These stories can also help readers find virtual communities to connect with while helping them find resources and toolkits online to gain access to telehealth solutions, find safe outpatient clinics near them, and help implement activities and exercises at home to reduce mental health symptoms.

Engage With the Community

Having a community to engage with is a critical boon in the fight for better mental health and awareness. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made this a difficult task. Still, organizations like NAMI are trying to help people leverage online resources to find opportunities to connect with others and establish lasting, meaningful relationships online – through telehealth services, online support groups, and social media.

Teens have been struck by the interpersonal and social impact of the pandemic, and are struggling with a level of isolation that can have a long-lasting effect on their ability to socialize and seek out meaningful connections. While a virtual call doesn’t supersede a face-to-face interaction, virtual friendships can be meaningful and provide huge benefits for teens isolated in their homes by anxiety and local restrictions.

Download the Event Guide

NAMI has produced its own online event guide for interested readers and parties to follow as they continue to present Mental Health Awareness Month 2021. The event guide provides and names multiple resources and organizations, helps provide context for MHAM via updated statistics and infographics, shares the importance of providing support both to individuals and the community, and highlights how mental health impacts individuals and communities, respectively.

It also provides text and graphic examples for you to share with others to raise awareness for mental health issues this month, as well as more specific brand information for organizations and companies interested in following NAMI’s brand guidelines when scheduling or organizing a mental health awareness event this month.

Categories
Mental Health

Connectedness Is Key to Good Adolescent Mental Health

Mental health has become a topic of increasing importance for parents with teen children, especially as adolescent mental health problems continue to rise year after year. More children are dealing with symptoms of anxiety and depression, symptoms that can go hand-in-hand with other mental health and behavioral risks. Identifying and addressing mental health issues at home and school remains critically important and difficult.

Parents must be empowered to support their children through helpful resources and professional guidance. That same support is central to the idea of connectedness and the role it plays in helping adolescents tackle the day-to-day challenges associated with poor mental health and reduce the risk of negative health outcomes.

Why Mental Health is Important During Adolescence

Our mental and physical health is inextricably entwined, and our children face sudden and drastic changes regarding both during their teen years. Teens are making the transition towards adulthood and are charged with developing independence and mature social skills and navigating a complicated world.

Adolescence is often the time when we cement many of the habits we continue to employ later in life to cope with failure and pain and seek out help. This is also a time for developing mature behavioral responses towards family and friends and honing one’s interpersonal skills. Patterns of self-care are also important for mental health, including developing healthy sleeping habits and exercising regularly.

Meanwhile, adolescence is also a typical period for the onset of multiple common mental health issues, some of which greatly affect a teen’s risk of developing future social and health problems, including substance abuse. These can further affect and complicate the development of crucial interpersonal and coping skills.

Lastly, mental health issues among teens remain a growing problem. Even as we revise and revisit distinctions and diagnostic criteria, the fact remains that suicidal ideation, feelings of hopelessness, and anxiety have starkly increased in the past decade. Adolescence is not just a time for growth and learning – for teens of this generation, it’s often a time for identifying and confronting difficult feelings of pain and sorrow.

The Role of Connectedness in Adolescent Mental Health

Connectedness is best described as a protective factor consisting largely of important social relationships and a supportive environment. Teens who enjoy greater connectedness have a larger support network, access to better and more resources, friends and family they can talk to about their thoughts and worries, and organizations they can turn to in times of need.

Teens confused or conflicted about their sexual or gender identity, teens feeling hopeless and useless, teens unable to adjust their problematic behaviors, or teens unable to overcome gnawing fears, can draw on the support of their loved ones and open discussions regarding mental health in the community to not feel alone or ignored, and feel empowered to seek out the professional help needed to address these issues – without judgment, prejudice, or harmful intent.

Research shows that building and nurturing this connectedness has long-term effects on a teen’s mental health later in life and that those who felt connected to others and had support networks at school and home were as much as 66 percent less likely to struggle later in life with issues such as substance use, violence towards others, victimization, and adult mental health disorders.

What Parents Can Do to Promote Adolescent Connections

Fostering connectedness at home requires open communication and thorough education. Parents wishing to help their teens can do so by focusing on:

    • Learning as much as they can about their teen’s symptoms and condition, preferably from a professional.
    • Communicating regularly with their teen’s therapist, teachers, and educators.
    • Helping with homework and becoming engaged with what a teen does at school.
    • Spending more time together and encouraging healthy habits through role modeling and bonding activities (such as exercising together, cooking together, enforcing better sleeping schedules.)
    • Researching local resources to help a teen connect with others struggling with similar symptoms, online support groups.

By often communicating, seeking out local opportunities to help your teen, and discussing your options for treatment and support with school authorities and local mental healthcare providers, you can maximize your teen’s connectedness and drastically reduce their health risks.

Connectedness and COVID-19

Achieving adolescent connectedness has arguably never been more important and never been as difficult as today. While some might argue that we are entering the latter half of a global pandemic, there are still restrictions abound. Many teens are struggling with the long-term effects of social isolation during quarantine. Intentional self-harm, symptoms of anxiety, and feelings of depression have drastically increased among young adults and teens as a result of COVID.

Particularly worrying are the potential long-term implications of this isolation period. For some teens, this might mean greater social anxiety levels and agoraphobia, and discomfort with social interaction. These social skills will have to be relearned as COVID wanes, and life returns to its open, “normal,” pre-pandemic state.

The Importance of Support Alongside Self-Care

Self-care refers to techniques and healthy coping mechanisms individuals can employ to avoid or work through difficult episodes, from breathing exercises to mindfulness, connecting with friends, avoiding abusive relationships, or spending a few minutes out in nature. Self-care is only one part of the greater picture, particularly for young teens in need of help and guidance.

Where one’s own agency and motivation limit self-care, support through connectedness can be the lifeline for many, who are struggling far too much to take their mental health into their own hands. Both self-care and connectedness are part of a greater long-term strategy for dealing with mental health issues after treatment.

Both need to be contextualized to a teen’s circumstances and condition. If you or a loved one struggles with symptoms of depression and anxiety, including very low self-esteem, procrastination, low energy, thoughts of self-harm, hopelessness, irritability, and sudden changes in sleep, know that it is important – and healthy – to look for professional help.