WRITES JOAN ZAWEDDE
GUIDANCE AND COUNSELLING STUDENT- KYAMBOGO UNIVERSITY
“Health does not always come from medicine. Most of the time. It comes from peace of mind, peace in the heart, peace in the soul. It comes from laughter and love”- Joan Zawedde
Adolescents are individuals between the ages of 10 to 19 where they begin to transition from childhood to adulthood. A weird acting adolescent may be termed as one that has a mental problem, meaning that his/her mental health is not okay. Mental health is the absence of mental illness. A mental illness is a condition that disrupts one’s thinking, feeling and ability to interact with others.
Most adolescents do not suffer from any mental illness because this is the most active stage of a human being, where development occurs on a high rate. The adolescent stage is where pubic hair starts to develop, breasts, hips and fair skin amongst girls starts to develop while in boys the masculine body and deep voice starts to emerge. Mental illness however, can affect all this kind of development. A girl’s menstrual period may be affected, and for the boys, their masculinity may not emerge. However, WHO states that 10-20% of adolescents experience mental disorders due to factors like poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse, bullying, social media (cyber bullying), and separation of parents among others.
In our community, about 66% of adolescents face sexual abuse from close relatives and friends, and they are always terrified to report this kind of abuse to their parents or the police. This affects them psychologically and they start having depression, post-traumatic symptoms, hating themselves, some resort to abusing drugs like marijuana, some start acting in ways that are abnormal for example constant isolation, self-harm, or extreme short temperedness. We always rush to say they are abnormal or weird without getting to know the bottom of the story most times. Domestic violence between the parents of an adolescent can greatly torture him/her psychologically though most parents don’t think about this. About 65% of adolescents suffer from this kind of abuse and they always develop feelings of guilt, thinking he/she is the major cause of misunderstandings between his/her parents, depression, lack of interest in school, emotional numbing, and anxiety towards the parent that’s more violent. At times such experiences cause one to become a homosexual.
Mental health in adolescents is very vital though it is not taken as a serious issue yet mental illness in adolescents if untreated can cause disability because it greatly disrupts growth, education, development and potential of living a good life like changes in sleep patterns(insomnia or parasomnia), changes in appetite, concentration, and energy level. Adolescents with mental illness are prone to challenges like diseases, stigma, isolation, and discrimination therefore lacking access to health care and sometimes even education. Adolescents with mental illness can easily resort to dropping out of school, early and unsafe pregnancy, self-harm, suicide, HIV/AIDs, lack of interest in hobbies, changes in school grades, disinterest in friends, violence(out-of-character irritability), and alcoholism or drug abuse.
“It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.” Kakinda Adrian
Common types of mental illnesses in adolescents include;
Anxiety disorders characterized by excessive fear, worry, and uneasiness. Anxiety disorders also are characterized by post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) where the individual suffers from stress from a past traumatic experience, generalized anxiety where the individual is always in constant worry about everyday matters, social anxiety; the individual is too afraid of being around other people, panic attacks where the individual experiences an abrupt surge of intense fear for some minutes characterized by sweating, shaking, smothering, among others, obsessive-compulsive disorder involves consistent obsessions like sexual obsessions, cleaning obsessions, religious obsessions among others and phobias, extreme fear for something. And this occurs in nearly 32% of adolescents’ aged 13-18 years.
Eating disorders; this is characterized by excessive eating or abnormal eating behaviors. While some parents may think the child is having an appetite, it is important to notice that the child’s behavior isn’t normal and seek help. Examples of eating disorders include binge eating disorders, bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Almost 3% of the adolescents experience this type of disorder from the ages 13-18 years.
Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); with this kind of mental illness, the adolescent is extremely active (hyperactive), can’t pay attention to anything, and so impulsive (acting without giving a thought). About 9% of adolescents suffer from this kind of mental illness.
Depression. This is where the individual has suffered constant episodes of stress and they turn out to become depression. The individual may adopt binge eating, over sleeping or getting too involved in a particular activity, hopelessness, restlessness, suicidal thoughts, feeling persistently sad or empty
WHAT WE CAN DO
Health workers need to relate with young people to detect mental illnesses early, and provide counseling, therapy and medication where there is need. Strategies like improving on social skills, problem-solving skills and self-confidence should be taught to adolescents to help them cope or prevent mental health problems like anxiety, stress and depression.
This can be effective if the parents of the adolescents also act early because most parents think of asking for help when the issue has been going on for months and months because they don’t want to believe that it is actually happening to their child (denial). Parents should also support their children when they suffer from a mental illness through motivating them, taking recovery as a step by step process, and also trying to eliminate whatever makes them anxious or what reminds them of a traumatic event.
COUNSELLING STUDENTS, KYAMBOGO UNIVERSITY