Common myths about adolescent mental health

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AS I promised last week to look at some commons myths that affects adolescent health, today we are talking about common myths about adolescent mental health.

Let us begin by defining mental health; according the World Health Organisation, mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

Young people like grownups are affected by mental health problems which can manifest as  depression, suicide tendencies, self’-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, violent behaviour, difficulty in concentrating, isolation, unexplained exhaustion, and decline in school or work performance. 

Ministry of Health Assistant Director Adolescent Health Dr. Matilda Kakungu Simpungwe says mental health problems have always attracted myths and misconceptions that result in discrimination, neglect or stigmatization of affected individuals and families.

The discrimination is so bad that in most communities people shun marrying members of families plagued with mental health and children are cautioned  to keep a safe distance from children suffering from mental health problems so that ‘they don’t get the disease. 

Limited information is the major contributing factor to myths around mental health.

There is a common belief that mental illness is caused by witchcraft and that those affected have no hope of leading normal lives. The truth is that mental illness is caused by genetics, biological, social and environmental factor and with proper help most people get well and lead normal lives.

Some people blame those affected by mental health problems that they are just exaggerating and not trying hard enough to pull themselves out of the problem. The fact is that people with mental health problems need help from others; they cannot help themselves.

This is the more reason why family members and friends should seek medical attention once they notice changes in behaviour of their loved ones; loss of interest in participating in various activities, over sleeping, unkempt appearance, over eating and hyperactivity.

People with mental health problems are violent and can harm others is another myth circulating in communities.

The fact is that most people with a mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than others. It is important to note that sometimes mental illnesses especially in adolescents is not recognised as such but misunderstood as just a phase of ups and downs that young people go through during puberty.

Most people believe that they cannot be affected by mental health problems.  Surprisingly mental illnesses are common and can affect anyone including children.  As earlier mentioned mental illnesses are caused by various factors that are sometimes veto d our sphere of control.

When you are not a patient you can help someone with a mental illness by speaking to and treating them with respect.  Don’t call patients crazy or mad but by their names.

Don’t make patients feel worse by giving them simple solutions or by telling them how better or worse they are than others but show understanding and patience and seek medical attention. 

Symptoms of an adolescent mental health condition:

•Withdrawal from family, friends and activities.

•Uncharacteristically poor performance and follow-through in school.

•Visible distress, crying, easily hurt feelings and anger.

•Sudden changes in sleeping or eating habits. 

Increased complaints of physical pain, such as headaches or stomachaches

MYTH: A child with a mental health condition is damaged for life.

Treatment works and recovery is always possible. While some people may have symptoms intermittently during their lifetimes, no one is hopeless. 

A child with a mental health condition is not damaged for life. Going to therapy and getting the proper medical attention can help him or her recover.

MYTH: Mental health issues result from personal weakness.

No mental health condition is related to being weak. Rather, such conditions are genetic, environmental, trauma-related or substance abuse-caused, or a combination thereof.

MYTH:  Mental health issues result from bad parenting.

Even the best parents are imperfect and sometimes yell or act out like their kids do. Healthy communication and problem-solving strategies are key to helping families work out disagreements.

MYTH: A child can manage a mental illness through willpower.

An adult may be able to get along with stress and anxiety until their brains become overwhelmed. Kids cannot yet do this as readily, as their internal resources are still developing.

MYTH: Therapy for kids is a waste of time. 

Therapy works. That said, there is no easy, one-session fix, and not every therapist is a fit for every family. Parents should encourage their child to hang in there for the duration of his or her treatment and to speak up if something isn’t working.

MYTH: Children are overmedicated.

There’s been a lot of discussion and publicity about children and medications, but child therapists and other trained medical professionals practice the “do no harm” credo, using the smallest doses of medication for the shortest periods of time, and avoiding medication when not indicated.

MYTH: Children will outgrow a mental health disorder.

It’s unlikely that children with a diagnosed disorder will grow out of that disorder. In fact, a person who’s experienced one major depressive episode is 85 percent more likely to experience a second. Recovery from mental health problems is not just a matter of “waiting it out.”

A common symptom of a mental health condition is withdrawal from family, friends and activities. 

What can parents do if their child has these symptoms? 

•First, take a deep breath and realize you can’t rush in and solve everything at once.

•Talk with your child. Ask, “How are you? How’s school? How’s life?” If he or she acts nervous or angry, back off a bit and change the subject. Circle back later, but keep talking.

•Provide quiet time away from the TV, computer, cellphone and other devices — for your child.

•Connect in nature. Try taking a walk, bike riding and other outdoor activities.

•Dine together with as few distractions as possible.

•Have your child examined by his physician to rule out a physical ailment.

•Ask your child’s teacher or school counselor whether they’ve noticed anything unusual.

•Contact a mental health specialist at Chainama Hills Hospital.

Until next week, bye for now!

The Author is Ministry of Health Head-Media Relations

For comments contact: Communication and External Relations Unit

Mobile: +260977694310, +26077835660

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