- Young people go through various life challenges that predispose them to stress and mental health problems.
- In school, the pressure to perform well and study hard to pass examinations can take a toll on most teenagers.
- Emotional and physical changes happening in their bodies during puberty may also be overwhelming and disturbing on many young people.
Young people go through various life challenges that predispose them to stress and mental health problems.
In school, the pressure to perform well and study hard to pass examinations can take a toll on most teenagers.
Emotional and physical changes happening in their bodies during puberty may also be overwhelming and disturbing on many young people.
During this stage, they may also grapple with social relationships as they develop an attraction to the opposite sex or struggle to fit ‘in’ to get approval and be considered as ‘cool’ by their peers.
Sometimes, changes in school or transitions to higher learning institutions may cause anxiety and stress as young people try to settle in new environments.
Bullying or violence in school can also take a toll on young people and impact them negatively.
“It is no wonder people keep saying that it is hard work to be a young person. They usually have so much going on in their lives as they struggle to understand themselves and find their place in the society,” states Mary, a mother of two teenage daughters based in Nairobi.
“As a parent, you are always concerned with what the young ones are going through. You just want to support them as much as you can so they don’t slip into depression or other mental health conditions as they go about the life problems and challenges.”
Parents can help teenagers or adolescent to cope effectively with stress is by taking time to listen to them so they can feel understood and loved.
They can also build their self-esteem by encouraging them to think positively about themselves, celebrate accomplishments and look at failures as opportunities for growth or improvement in life.
“This prevents them from feeling down, thinking that others are better than them or viewing themselves as life failures whenever things fail to go their way,” says Mary.
She also encourages her children to engage in daily physical activity or exercises as a way of letting off their steam so they can feel calmer.
If stressful emotions and low moods exist for longer periods, health experts recommend having the child seen by a psychologist or psychiatrist for further assistance or care.
Sleep, which many people take for granted, also plays a significant role in stress management among young people.
A new study published in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health Journal reminds parents about the importance of teenagers getting enough sleep, cautioning them that insufficient sleep can negatively affect their mental health.
The research, which was conducted by scientists from the University of South Australia, notes that whereas sleep is intrinsically linked to mental health, it is commonly overlooked by health practitioners as a contributing factor.
According to Dr Alex Agostini, the lead author of the study, parents and medical practitioners must be aware of the bi-directional relationship between sleep and mental health, particularly across the teenage years.
“Getting enough sleep is important for all of us. It helps our physical and mental health, boosts our immunity, and ensures we can function well on a daily basis,” he notes.
“But for teenagers, sleep is especially critical because they’re at an age where they’re going through a whole range of physical, social, and developmental changes, all of which depend on enough sleep.”
Based on research, Dr Agostini notes that teenagers need at least eight hours of sleep each night.
“Without this, they’re less able to deal with stressors, such as bullying or social pressures, and run the risk of developing behavioural problems, as well as anxiety and depression.”
He says if sleep drops to less than six hours a night, research shows that teens are twice as likely to engage in risky behaviours such as dangerous driving, marijuana, alcohol or tobacco use, risky sexual behaviour and other aggressive or harmful activities.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, yet most cases go undetected and untreated.
Ensuring children get sufficient sleep and rest can go a long way in averting the ailment or helping those affected to manage related symptoms effectively.
Dr Stephanie Centofanti, a co-author of the study, says while many factors contribute to later bedtimes for teenagers, technology is one of the greatest offenders.
“Teens spend a lot of time on devices. Whether it’s texting friends, playing games or watching videos, using technology late into the night is one of the most common disruptors of good sleep. Overuse of technology can also contribute to mental health issues likely to increase anxiety,” She states.
“Not only can technology use make us feel anxious and awake, but the blue light emitted from technology inhibits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin to delay the natural onset of sleep. This is problematic because teens already have a biological tendency to want to stay up late and sleep in.”
“To make a real difference to teenage mental health, Dr Centofanti notes that both parents and medical practitioners must understand how sleep can affect mental health in teenagers.”