Teenagers suffering with anxiety
On 21 July 2014, the Mind Health Connect organisation published an article citing research from the University of Queensland that suggests young people and teenagers are experiencing more depression and anxiety than they did a decade or more ago. The studies conducted across 12 different countries and suggests a decline in the mental health of young people, more so for girls than boys.
This trend is certainly apparent in the school counselling forum. Teenagers are increasingly experiencing issues with anxiety. They are saying that they are feeling ‘stressed’, unable to sleep, weepy and are then having issues around social anxiety, in that they experience panic attacks or relate that they feel ‘ill’ and are worried about being seriously ill or of being sick in public.
These feelings of anxiety are starting earlier and earlier, affecting young people in primary school and into high school. Examination stress is a trigger for many. The coping mechanisms needed to navigate this stressful period are lacking in many young people (and older if truth be told). Often unresolved issues, including bereavement or separation of parents, possibly years before, resurface at this time.
The young person with a predisposition for anxiety can quickly feel overwhelmed. They seek a way out; a way to avoid the fear. They may look for this way out by claiming illness (which can feel or indeed become very real) or social anxiety requiring that they sit exams in smaller classrooms with less people.
The need to be allowed out if they need to leave is sought and many schools try to help in this department, however the ability to leave can quickly move from a coping mechanism into the realms of a crutch, that if removed will have devastating consequences on the young person. Once offered as an option, it becomes very hard to then remove it.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is frequently offered as a solution, often because in NHS terms, the results are quantitative, offering value for money. CBT can miss the triggers, the deeper meaning behind the anxiety. A more tailored approach to the individual is essential, one that recognises their particular issues and worries. CBT can help address certain behaviours and negative thinking that triggers these behaviours, but a more holistic approach is more likely to have longer term impact on the person experiencing crippling anxiety.
The BBC news (8th November 2014) highlighted the fact that teens need “tailored treatments” to deal with their anxiety. The report related the fact that many treatments are generic and not necessarily age appropriate. It reported that childhood therapies were just being adapted for teenagers, but were missing the distinct nature of teenager anxiety, and missing the symptoms, such as social anxiety. Dr Waite, the lead researcher in a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, stated that:
"By targeting more effectively, we could stop teenagers developing mental health problems, leading to fewer suicides and incidence of drug and alcohol problems.”
What to do if you are a teen experiencing anxiety problems (adapted from Teens health.org):
- Tell a parent or other adult.
- Get a check with a GP, to make sure that the problem is not physical.
- Seek help from a counsellor, earlier is better,as prevention is better than cure!
- Get outside, take exercise, sleep enough.
In essence, anxiety in teens needs to be addressed promptly, in an individualised manner. One size does not fit all.
http://teenshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/anxiety.html# D'Arcy Lyness, PhD (8/11/2014)
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