According to Mayo clinic, “Mental health is the overall wellness of how you think, regulate your feelings and behave” (Feb 26, 2020). However, mental illness refers to a change in the pattern of behavior, feelings, and thinking, which disrupt their way of living and causes distress.
In Kenya, mental health is still facing stigma that makes those that are unwell feel that they cannot speak or mention their illness for fear of seclusion. I speak with firsthand experience, because thinking about my bipolar diagnosis makes me feel shame. Many adolescents suffering from stress, depression, bipolar spectrum disorder, and suicide ideation suffer the same shame and fear to speak out. Also, life has become so busy that we as parents are not able to note some of the signs of mental illness in our adolescents.
What should we look for?
There are some signs that may help parents or older siblings identify a change in an adolescent’s behavior. The following is a list is of some of the things considered for diagnosis of mental illness as noted by Penn Medicine (April11, 2018):
changes in sleep
new onset of guilt
changes in energy level
changes in concentration or task completion
changes in appetite
changes in motivation
thoughts of suicide
Mayo clinic (Feb 26, 2020) lists some of the signs of mental illness that a parent can look out for as:
Persistent sadness — two or more weeks
Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
Talking about death or suicide
Outbursts or extreme irritability
Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful
Drastic changes in mood, behavior, or personality
Changes in eating habits
Loss of weight
Frequent headaches or stomachaches
Changes in academic performance
Avoiding or missing school
How can we help?
As parents, it is important for us to talk to our adolescents and ensure that we have a clear view of who they are, which would allow us to note any change in the pattern of their behavior or feelings. However, it is important that adolescence comes with its challenges. There is mood and other changes that are due to the developmental stage they are in. It is important to make sure that we do not confuse their mood changes with menta illness.
Enroll adolescents in sporting activities. Exercise not only improves physical health, but also mental health. The hormones secreted during exercise promote good feelings in a person.
Encourage the adolescents to keep a positive company of friends.
Listen to them.
Encourage them in their endeavors.
Find ways to engage with your child that are fun and relaxing too.
Manage your own stress healthily and avoid using your child as an outlet of your own stress.
Mental illness in children, know the signs. Children’s Health. Mayo Clinic (February26, 2020) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577
6 Facts Parents Should Know about Mental Illness in Teens. Penn Medicine. (April11, 2018) https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2017/may/teens-mental-health