What is mental health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. It can be thought of as a state of being where a person realizes his/her own abilities, is able to cope with the normal stresses of daily life, can go to work/school and be productive, and is able to make a contribution to his/her community.
What is mental illness?
Mental illness is a condition the impacts a person's thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his/her ability to function on a daily basis. Genetics, environment and lifestyle combine to influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. This means both brain chemistry and stressful situations can lead to mental illness.
Just over 45% of high school students felt sad or depressed, on most days,
over the past year.
Just over 30% of high school students sometimes think life is not worth it.
Source: 2020 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey
What are the most common mental health issues Manatee County teens face today?
Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief between stressors, causing wear and tear on the body – both physical and emotional. Signs of stress can show up in various ways like becoming irritable or short tempered, eating or sleeping habits that change, neglecting responsibilities, getting sick more often, and overall changes in well established behavior.
Depression is a common, but serious mood disorder that occurs when someone feels sad most of each day, for extended periods of time (two weeks or more). It can cause severe symptoms that affect how you think, feel and handle your relationships and daily activities at home, school and/or work. There are many symptoms of depression, but some common signs are a persistent "down" mood, feeling hopeless, being irritable, loss of interest in once-loved activities, withdrawal from friends, frequent crying spells, drop in grades, and a change in eating or sleeping habits.
Anxiety is where your brain and body perceive ordinary activities or situations as potentially harmful causing you to experience more than a temporary worry or fear. Anxiety becomes a disorder when the feelings interfere with your life. There are many types of anxiety disorders, but a few of the most common are general anxiety, social anxiety, specific phobias, and panic disorders. Symptoms of anxiety can be mental such as having feelings of dread, watching for signs of danger all the time, feeling tense and jumpy, having racing thoughts and/or trouble concentrating. Anxiety can also have physical symptoms such as pounding heart, sweating, upset stomach, dizziness, headaches, insomnia, tremors and/or twitches.
Self-harm occurs when an person harms their own body on purpose. It is most commonly used as a form of punishment or as a way to numb or avoid painful memories or feelings. Some examples of self-harm are cutting yourself, punching yourself or things (like a wall), pulling out your hair, breaking your bones, or bruising yourself. Additionally, eating disorders such as restricting, binging and/or purging foods are considered a form of self-harm. Any of these behaviors can have negative short-term and long-term effects on physical and psychological health. A few common signs of self-harm are wearing long pants or long sleeved shirts even in hot weather, wearing baggy clothes, brushing off injuries as accidents, needing to spend a lot of time alone, unexplained scars, withdrawing from friends and activities, and/or unpredictable, impulsive behaviors.
Suicidal Thoughts can arise if a teen is dealing with bullying, conflicts with a loved one, depression, anxiety, loss of someone close, or questioning their sexual orientation. While nobody is immune, there are factors that make teens more vulnerable than others. Many teens who attempt suicide have difficulties in coping with struggles they face at home and/or school. Experiencing even one of these struggles can lead a teen to suicidal thoughts, so knowing the risk factors, warning signs and steps you can take are important in preventing suicide. Warning signs, could be voicing statements like "I want to kill myself", writing a will, making a plan or researching ways to die, giving away cherished possessions, and/or saying goodbye to family and friends. They could also include extreme mood swings, a change in eating and/or sleeping habits, taking greater risks, withdrawing from social situations, and/or misusing harmful substances. If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, reach out to a professional as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently.
Experiencing mental health symptoms can be confusing and very scary, but know that you're not alone, these feelings don't define you, and they are not your fault. Reaching out to a trusted adult, like a parent, older relative, teacher, coach or youth leader is a great place to start. A simple question like, "I'm having a hard time, can I talk to you about it?", can start a conversation that will help you figure out what to do next. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it shows extraordinary strength, so don't be afraid. A few other things you can try to help calm these unsettling feelings are listening to "feel good" music, taking a walk, doing yoga, writing in a journal, mindful breathing, creating art, or playing your favorite game/sport. There are also many support services you can access on your phone via text, like HELLO to 741741 or TALK to 38255. You can also call Centerstone and speak to someone right away.
If you are noticing any warning signs in your teenager, take a deep breath and know that there are many resources available to help you, help them. Stay calm, but take action by starting a conversation with your teen. This may be uncomfortable at first, but it's very important to talk about red flags you have been noticing. Don't be surprised if he/she insists that nothing is wrong. Many teens are confused, embarrassed or afraid of the feelings they are experiencing and talking with parents is not high on their list, so help them to identify three other trusted adults they might feel comfortable talking to about issues they're having. If the signs you're noticing don't appear to be an immediate crisis, make a doctor's appointment for your teen. When you're at the appointment share your concerns, but make sure your teen has time to talk with the doctor alone. If signs you're noticing are at a crisis level, go immediately to your local emergency room or a Manatee County behavior health hospital, like Centerstone.
What can I do to help a friend?
One of the most important ways to be a good friend is to help them when you notice something is wrong, but if you’re not a trained mental health professional, you may not know how to help. Thankfully, you can help by being supportive and encouraging during their mental health journey. Here are a few tips on supporting a friend:
You may feel scared, but try to remain calm
Provide support by simply asking them how you can help
Be respectful and offer the chance to talk
Take time to thoroughly listen to them
Avoid using language like "snap out of it" or "toughen up"
Include your friend in your plans
Check in with them to see how they're doing
As a friend, remember that you cannot force a person to get help and that there are no foolproof guidelines for helping them on their journey towards recovery. Just do your best to listen and be there for them. A simple conversation can go a long way in helping a friend.
Young, Karen. Hey Sigmund. "Anxiety in Teens: How to Help a Teenager Deal with Anxiety" https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-teens/ Accessed 24 June 2021.
NAMI. "Your Journey: Teens & Young Adults" https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Teens-Young-Adults Accessed 23 Oct. 2020.
NIMH. "Mental Health Information: Depression" https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.
"What is Mental Health" 28 May 2020. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.
Cleveland Clinic. "Health Articles: Stress". 2 May 2015. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.
Mayo Clinic. "Teen Suicide: What Parents Need to Know". https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/teen-suicide/art-20044308 Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.