When it comes to today’s youth, many are overwhelmed with social, school, athletic and cultural pressures. However, too much stress and worrying can be problematic for children and teens. That’s especially true when anxiety starts to get in the way of everyday life, and begins to affect a child’s mental health.
Anabel Basulto, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, says while progress has been made in reducing the stigma of mental health conditions, it can be especially challenging for children and teens to open up about depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.
The increased exposure to technology has contributed to the stress children and teens face today,” Basulto said. Social media websites that provide real-time information about activities and self-image serve as a means to measure if you are accepted. Acceptance is an important part of adolescent development, and to be left out can be a symbol of rejection. As a result, children and teens internalize this as rejection, which leads to depression and anxiety.
In addition, Basulto added the increased use of filters and photoshop leads to an unrealistic way of how one should look. For example, the use of celebrity social media and taking the perfect “selfie” make children and teens idolize and seek the perfect look. There has been an increase of depression, anxiety and eating disorder due to the inability to match what social media defines as beautiful. This can result in changes in mood, increased irritability and issues with self-esteem.
“Periodic bad moods or mood swings can be normal in kids, especially teens,” Basulto explained. “When it goes beyond a temporary phase or an occasional event, it can be a sign of something more serious, such as a mental health condition that requires attention.”
According to a recent Pew Research study, seven in 10 teens say anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers. Half of all chronic mental health conditions begin by age 14, including three-quarters by age 24. Reaching them early, and providing interventions is critical to improving the mental health of children.
“While conversations around mental health conditions continue to increase as there’s less stigma, these issues can still be challenging to address, especially for a parent,” Basulto said.
Basulto provided these helpful tips for parents and/or loved ones to start a conversation with their children regarding mental health issues:
—Speak with your child or teen on their level based on their age. Let him or her know you are concerned and then just listen. Ask questions based on what they say and listen some more.
—Be present. Sometimes just being in the same room sends a message that you are available if they need to talk. If they start to talk, put down what you are doing to signal you want to hear what they have to say.
—Empathize. Don’t dismiss what they are feeling. Show them you understand what they are going through and that you are there to help. Remain respectful and offer hope.
—Assess how they are doing at home, school and socially. While problems in any one of these areas may be cause for concern, problems in two or more may indicate that it’s time to get some professional help.
—Talk to your pediatrician. If necessary, seek a diagnosis and discuss an appropriate care plan. Treatment can vary based on severity of symptoms, but can include counseling, behavioral therapy, support groups and/or medication.
“Whether a child is dealing with depression or anxiety — or both — it’s important to let them know they’re not alone, and that help is available,” Basulto said. “This can help encourage children to talk about what they’re experiencing in order to ensure they receive effective treatment.”
As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest integrated health plan, is offering tips and advice to parents on how to identify mental health issues and communicate with their children about concerns and challenges.
The Find Your Words website can help reduce the stigma around depression and motivate people to talk openly about mental health conditions. The website includes tools for support, including a tip sheet for parents. Visit findyourwords.org.