Is This Now A Crisis? The Youth Mental Health Crisis Is Real And It Is Right Now.
WORDS: Karla Gilbert PHOTOGRAPHY Lifestyle Photography: Sharon Christina [email protected]
Statistics regarding teen mental health in the modern age are both challenging and distressingly alarming, with these outcomes being reflected in the current statistics*:
- 75% of mental health issues appear before 25 years of age
- 1 in 4 young people feel isolated, disconnected and lonely all, or most, of the time
- More than four in ten young people feel stressed either all or most, of the time
- More than one-third of young people spend nine hours or more on screens per day
- Youth suicide accounts for one-third of adolescent deaths and is the leading cause of death among young Australians
- For every death by suicide, there are approximately 100 to 200 attempts
Certainly, heavy stuff. While many factors influence these statistics, on a personal level, consideration around relationships and how we view ourselves and the world around us, mixed with education and employment, all contribute towards our youths’ current mental state.
So, what gives, and what does the future look like for our teens if this trajectory continues? With 50% of mental health problems established by age 14, as a community, we have a very real responsibility to engage and step up to buck the current trends. It’s not possible to completely prevent all mental health illnesses, and some may still occur in vulnerable individuals. However, with the right approach, the burden can be significantly reduced.
When helping youth with a more positive life outlook, we have the advantage of looser, less formed life scripts with the ability to wire and steer the developing brain towards a more positive future. Primary prevention is paramount to assisting youth in developing awareness of their self-esteem, positive self-identity, and resilience.
Scott Watters, CEO of LifeChanger – a nationwide youth programme that is tackling the distressing statistics at a ground zero level says it best: “When a young person becomes isolated, it’s almost an impossible place to grow from. Young people must get the opportunity to connect with others and explore who they are because when they uncover that, they’ll realise their own unlimited potential.”
LifeChanger’s evidence-based youth programmes train community mentors and facilitators, to assist in developing emotional and social skills, and build resilience in students to help them thrive in their everyday lives. “At LifeChanger, we believe there are five key foundational pillars – Health, Skills, Self, Purpose and Tribe – which help shape our youth into awesome humans. We build and expand on these concepts through engaging workshops and self-reflection”.
“It’s always amazing to see a young person flourish and grow and that is what motivates us to do what we do”, Watters added.
Personally, as a parent, I feel like we are constantly barraged by the fact that we are competing against technology. Gen Z teens are growing up in a time that sees them spending more time online than ever before. They’re connected to smartphones at a much earlier age and communicate with each other through apps and group chats. This itself is a beast but, on the flip side, Gen Z is much more open and willing to discuss mental health than any other generation we’ve seen to date. Plus, through social media, they can connect easily to others who are experiencing similar struggles. In a nutshell, Gen Z has increased the discussion around mental health, and this is an important first step. As a community, we need to leverage this and encourage youth to build strategies to manage and foster their own mental health.
The adolescent years are, in no one’s mind, ever easy, especially as they deal with changing hormones, finding their place in friendship groups and dealing with low moods and motivation. It is, however, important to be aware of any signs that go on for more than a few weeks, as this could potentially be the changing of the guard into something more. Retreating to be alone, a loss of appetite, tearfulness, a drop in school grades or a drop of general interest in life are all signs that a young person may be dealing with something and require support or help from others.
Proactively we can act now. Here are some simple ideas to aid you in supporting any young person in your life:
- Keep the communication lines open and encourage them to talk about their feelings often. Be your teen’s biggest cheerleader – simply being listened to can help them feel supported and less alone with any problems they’re going through.
- Prompt good eating habits by suggesting healthy foods that are going to help balance their diet – which directly correlates to their mood and how they feel daily.
- Suggest fun activities to engage in as a family or with their friends – going to the beach for a swim, walking the dog or kicking the ball around the park.
- Set limits on devices through in-home routers and time limit certain apps.
- Encourage 8-10 hours of sleep a night through sleep hygiene routines. Sleep and mental health are unsurprisingly linked. Poor sleep affects our cognitive function and mood, and prolonged mental ill-health affects sleep. This may look like no devices in rooms at bedtime (reduce blue light), talking to teens before bed to help ease a racing mind and creating a calm environment (plus lots of outdoor exercise).
- Encourage the frequent practice of mindfulness and ways to connect to the now. Being engaged in the present moment helps to lower cortisol levels and reduce stress. Further, it helps bring a sense of security to our being and calms a chaotic mind. Simply watching a goldfish make its way around a tank or marvelling at a sunrise helps induce our calming hormones. When on the go, try this grounded breathing exercise to help shift the mind to the now:
1-5 Grounded breathing exercises. Notice and say out loud or internally.
5 things you can see (pick a colour, for example, 5 blue things)
4 sensations you can feel (e.g., your back against the chair, cool air on your hands)
3 sounds you can hear.
2 things you can smell (it’s OK to actively smell things, like the laundry detergent on your clothes)
1 thing you can taste.
- Place importance on staying connected to friends. Supporting others or being supported. Quite often hearing another point of view offers a different perspective from whatever’s going on in their mind.
- Share the mistakes you made during your youth – hearing that it is ok to make mistakes for the sake of trying is a lifelong journey. Plus, it will help them with better judgment for the future.
If we can remain open to staying aware of how the teens around us, and in our lives, are reacting to the world then we are all in a better place for the future. Love, respect and understanding goes a long way – we just have to offer them more, and more often. If you or the teen in your life needs someone to talk to, or you would like to find out more online about mental health, please refer to organisations such as Kids Helpline, Headspace and ReachOut.com and LifeChanger.org.au
*2022 report by Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute.
Karla Gilbert, Nutrition and Health Coach. Karla is a mum of two teenage girls and lives a healthy lifestyle on the beautiful southern Gold Coast. For more information on her well-being programs visit www.karlagilbert.com.au