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  • Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla

Mental health-care: Reframing negative thoughts and feelings among adolescents

The human brain is a marvel. It is the crown jewel of our body, the source of all traits that define humanity. It enables us to assess, attempt to perceive, and shape the world around us. Considering the brain as a foundation to human health, its well being should be a priority, free from stigma. Scientists have been appraising the human brain for centuries, trying to figure out its functioning and fails. They are transforming their ways to treating it on par with any other disease of our body

A healthy social and emotional development during the early years defines foundation of one’s mental health and strength throughout life. In my interview with the Director of Maryvale, a Children’s Mental Health treatment center with clinics in Essex, Bell River and Leamington, Ms. Connie Martin said, “Kids don’t have the life experience to be able to talk themselves out of something, to be rational and put things in perceptive. That’s why professional help is important to help you rethink what you’re going through. They help you reframe your negative thoughts and feelings, seeing it as something that will pass.”

Mental illnesses are now becoming a constant threat to the lives of our children; with Canada having the third highest rate of suicide in the industrialized world. We lose about 4000 premature lives yearly, with suicide being one of the leading causes of death, after accidents, among 15-24 year old Canadians. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about 1 in 5 children and youth in Ontario experience some sort of mental health problems and 5 out of 6 of those children are unable to receive the required treatment. Since around 70% of the mental health problems have their onset during childhood, early identification and intervention is critical for a better health and improved outcome of life. It is estimated that about 20 percent of Canadians may experience a mental disorder during their lifetime. Poor educational and employment outcomes are often associated with its occurrence among children and youth. 

Mental disorders can be identified by an alteration in one’s thinking, behavior or mood and are related to weakened functioning and significant distress. A child that may be struggling with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorder or some other mental illness must not be neglected. Some of the most significant psychiatric disorders that affect adolescents and young adults are related to mood disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. Other common problems among youth consist of substance-related issues and behavioral and emotional disorders like eating disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

It is hard to pin down the exact causes supporting these disturbing statistics. However, biological, genetic, personality and environmental causes like verbal, physical and sexual abuse, bullying, parental illness, family violence and most recently, the immense exposure to social media could all be contributing factors to a weakened mental health among children and adolescents. Despite our efforts as a society to de-stigmatize mental illness and to address these trends, there still remain several children and teens who hide their distress from family and friends. These children may be battling their self-esteem: a feeling of being flawed. They may be ashamed or believe that they can figure it out themselves, often a result of trying to fit in. 

Adolescents grappling with emotional problems often tend to turn to alcohol or drug use, hoping to manage their pain and difficulty, similar to adults. However, the human brain is still developing during teenage and thus could be problematic to indulge in such activity. The escalation of substance use from mere experimentation to a serious irresistible need tends to be much faster and higher among teens, especially the ones with mental health disorders. 

It may be alluring to dissuade a child’s distress as a simple mood swing or irritability.  But if a child persistently shows signs of suffering, it must be considered and addressed immediately. While symptoms for mental illness vary from person to person, the most prominent warning sign is a dramatic change in the child’s behavior or capability to perform usual tasks. Mitigating other risk factors that might affect a child’s mental health like childhood experiences and family history would also be of great support to the child well being. 

The best prevention always is an early intervention. If one has concerns regarding their child’s mental health, one may refer to a family doctor, community healthcare center or a teacher/school councilor. Wellness doesn’t happen overnight. It requires patience, acceptance and understanding with children suffering with mental illness. 

Usually such mental health services are located in a community setting. “Most of our offices in Leamington, Bell River and in the town of Essex are situated in sports complexes. By situating ourselves in those kinds of centers, we are trying to get adolescents to come avail these services without fearing to be recognized or publicly associated with our services,”said Ms. Martin. Specialists, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and counsellors offer care in hospitals, schools, community clinics and private practices. Pediatricians, family doctors and nurses who work in the community setting are also important aspects of mental health care for adolescents. Outreach workers of some urban communities also provide for the homeless youth. 

Multiple agencies work in coordination with one another within their jurisdictions to support and oversee mental health services for youth. A lack of coordination within ministries of mental health services involved, can lead to trouble and inefficiency among patients and their families as they navigate the system. It can also have a toll on proper tracking of the duration of the disease incident and recognize treatment patterns and success of alternative approaches. However, there has been a constant growth in the field of providing mental health services, closer to people’s homes. 

Till date we haven’t completely understood the functioning behind some of the most powerful and impacting psychiatric treatments. This causes difficulty seeking for real help and fighting symptoms that ascribe a mental illness or addiction among several people. However, as knowledge advanced, the field of medicine and psychiatry has evolved drastically over the past century. Immensely studying the physiology and biochemistry of the human brain lead to advances during a time when the mental health services are merging with the traditional health care. The field has never witnessed a greater potential to literally bring psychiatry under the same roof as mainstream medicine. 

Ms. Martin’s message to the community is “Just know that you are not alone. Mental health affects everyone at different level, some far more serious than others. Monitor yours and your child’s mental health and reach out to the mental health crisis line. We’re here for you.”

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, not feeling safe or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please proceed to the emergency, contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or call 911.




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