Many children and young people experience anxiety about school or periods of sadness when a friendship or relationship comes to an end, among various other emotional distress. Most of these episodes, however, are transient in nature. But when symptoms persist, it may be time to seek professional assistance.
Most young people are healthy, physically and emotionally, yet one in every four to five young people in the general population meets the criteria for a mental disorder. Mental health and wellbeing lie on a continuum, and good mental health, includes wellbeing at the psychological, emotional, and social levels.
Good mental health is determined by the ability to
*Successfully navigate complex situations of one’s life.
*Develop fulfilling relationships.
*Adapt to change.
*Realise one’s potential to the extent possible.
*Develop skills that helps an individual navigate the different roles and environs of one’s life.
Factors that put us at risk for mental ill-health
A risk factor can be defined as a characteristic at the biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural level that precedes and is associated with a higher likelihood of mental ill-health. Some examples of risk factors include:
Difficult temperament: inflexibility, low positive mood, withdrawal, poor concentration.
Low self-esteem and perceived incompetence.
Poor social skills: communication and problem-solving skills.
Emotional problems in childhood.
Early substance use.
Parental depression or a severe mental illness.
Negative family environment (may include substance abuse in parents).
Social- school neighbourhood and community
Peer rejection- loss of close relationships or friends.
Stressful life events.
Poor academic achievement.
Community-level stressful or traumatic events- experiences of conflict, stigma or marginalisation.
School-level stressful or traumatic events including violence.
Poor academic performance.
Association with deviant peers.
Factors that protect us from mental ill-health
A protective factor can be defined as a characteristic at the biological, psychological, family, or social (including peers and culture) level that is associated with a lower likelihood of mental ill-health or that reduces the negative impact of a risk factor on mental health and wellbeing. Some examples of protective factors are:
Positive physical development
Academic achievement/intellectual development
Good coping skills and problem-solving skills
Engagement and connections in two or more of the following contexts: school, with peers, in athletics, employment, religion, culture
Family provides structure, limits, rules, oversight, and predictability
Supportive relationships with family members and a cordial home environment
Clear expectations for behaviour and values
Social- school neighbourhood and community
Presence of mentors and support for development of skills and interests
Opportunities for engagement within school and community
Clear expectations for behaviour
Physical and psychological safety
What can be done to support them?
Recognise the early warning signs of distress and seek help from family, school authorities or health care services. Early warning signs can include:
*A marked fall in school performance
*Poor grades in school despite trying very hard
*Marked changes in sleeping and eating habits
*Frequent physical complaints
*Marked difficulty in concentrating at school or home
*Severe mood swings
*Sexual acting out
*Most young people experiencing an emotional or behavioral problem face stigma and discrimination from their family, peers and school staff expressed in the form of fear, dislike, avoidance, underestimation of their abilities, pity and gossip.
Some things that can be done to support young people dealing with mental ill-health
*Educating the young person on mental health, illness, and wellness along with those in their environment
*Avoiding the use of negative labels
*Promoting non-discrimination and ensuring participation and inclusion at home, in the social environment and at work or school
*Friends form an important support system and having a supportive friend circle can make a big difference to the young person
*Mental health promotion encompasses a broad spectrum and can include the following:
–Early childhood interventions
–Programs aimed at building skills in children and young people
–Reduction of violence
–Community development programs
–Programs targeted at vulnerable groups such as migrants and minority communities
*Schools are a natural setting in which systematic action can be taken to promote mental health and wellbeing. Some important activities could include:
–Develop evidence-based programmes to provide positive school climate and promote student skills in dealing with bullying and conflicts, solving problems and developing healthy peer relationships
–Train school teachers and peers in the recognition of early warning signs of distress
–Develop a mechanism and referral system to provide care for young people experiencing high levels of distress or a mental disorder
–Mental health treatment and support is a crucial aspect for a young person experiencing mental ill-health. Health services need to be empathetic to young people with health service providers trained in communicating effectively with young people.
The author is Lead – Mental Health, Tata Trusts