Adolescent Mental Health: An Overlooked and Forgotten Issue
In our society, mental health is often overlooked instead of being taken seriously, and when it comes to adolescents, the situation is even worse. The very idea that adolescents could be mentally ill is still struggling to take root in our society. Even the best of parents fail to address their children’s psychological needs, even when they leave no stone unturned in ensuring their physical health. The fact that mental health is an essential component of a teenager’s overall well-being is alien to most of parents.
“What could possibly be troubling them after all we do for them?” “It’s just a phase, they’ll grow out of it eventually.” Such are the whimsical thoughts of a typical parent. They consider the emotional experiences of teenagers as being unworthy of attention, failing to realize the dangerous impact they can have on their adult lives.
So — does this make them bad parents? No; they are concerned enough about their children’s well-being. Then why do they fail to understand this issue specifically? Is it simply because they don’t know it exists, and those who do know ignore it because they do not want people to know that their child is mentally ‘crippled’? In fact, mental health is such an untapped and stigmatized issue that parents would rather remain in the dark than discover a myriad of dreadful possibilities.
The social stigma attached with mental illness makes it even more difficult for affected teens to reach out for help. Lingering in a phase where they are already struggling to maintain positive self-esteem and facing identity issues exacerbates the situation even more. Thus, they sink deeper and deeper into the abyss of despair, never having the chance to reach their full potential and leaving this phase of life as troubled adults.
Research suggests that about half of the adult mental disorders so-far recognized can be traced back to their onset in adolescence. Anxiety disorders account for the majority of adolescent mental health ailments. Others include depression, conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance abuse disorder, suicidal ideation, etc. Whether an aberrant behavior is part of typical adolescent turmoil or a portent of any of the above-mentioned disorders is hard to tell, which further complicates an already baffling issue.
Even if parents do identify that their child might be suffering from some mental disorder, they don’t know what to do next. Unfortunately, the scarcity of trained personnel renders it impossible for parents to provide specialist care to their child, such that the most they can do is to consult a family physician. However, primary care physicians in our set-up lack adequate training to provide optimum care to such teens and only 1% of outpatient healthcare facilities in the country cater specifically to the needs of children and adolescents.
Meagerness of resources and a negative approach to adolescent mental health on the part of parents and society have made this issue a particularly challenging one. It is high time that we, as students, physicians and members of society, take up the initiative to promote the mental well-being of adolescents.
Not only do we need to educate parents regarding the emotional and psychological needs of their children, but we must also address the common people at-large regarding the promotion of adolescent mental health. For instance, social media can be a powerful tool to disseminate awareness and, potentially, the one with the biggest reach; we must learn to take advantage of it.
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