A State of Mind
Mental health professionals address emotional wellness in adolescents
There needs to be greater access to care along with dispelling the myth that counseling is for ‘crazy’ people.
Kertrina Watson Lewis, director of communication at DePaul Community Health Centers
Even in the age of political correctness, the stigma associated with mental health unfortunately remains very much intact, something that can be especially hard on adolescents who are struggling to find their identity and place in this world.
“Adolescents struggle with depression and anxiety, which can be triggered by multiple events [such as] bullying, body image issues or problems in the home,” said Kertrina Watson Lewis, director of communication at DePaul Community Health Centers. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents. Excessive social media use, coupled with cyberbullying, are contributory causes of anxiety and depression.”
There is no magic cure for treating youths with mental health issues, but the first step is an easy one: create a safe space, according to Lewis.
“Adolescents need to have a safe space to discuss their issues,” she said. “We must help to dispel the stigma attached to therapy. Young people need outdoor physical activity. Screen time and activities done in isolation should be limited. Listen closely to them when they open up and talk.”
Lewis advises parents to look out for any changes in mood or activity, and if necessary, consult a primary care provider who will be able to recommend a behavioral health provider. Adolescents can also consult with their school social worker or counselor for emotional support.
“Pay attention and be kind,” Lewis said. “Don’t judge or make negative assumptions about behaviors that may be a cry for help. If they feel that they can speak freely, they will be more inclined to discuss the underlying issues, which can begin the process to [achieve]emotional and mental wellness.”
With Hurricane Ida and the ongoing pandemic, we have all been through a lot, but with all the COVID-19 safety precautions and regulations, the toll on the youth cannot go unnoticed.
“Our hope is that the past year and a half has created a stronger sense of resilience in adolescents that will help them in adulthood, and that adolescents will begin to receive the mental health care that they need,” Lewis said. “There needs to be greater access to care along with dispelling the myth that counseling is for ‘crazy’ people.
“It is healthy to process thoughts, feelings and achievements with a neutral party that can help young people get in touch with their feelings in a nonjudgmental space.”
DePaul Community Health Centers offers behavioral health services at its 11 health centers and at 27 schools in the Greater New Orleans area. Families seeking support for their children may contact DCHC at (504) 207-3064.
Depression and anxiety
While mental health issues in adolescents may stem from many sources, the issues usually manifest in forms of depression and anxiety. And for some teens, these feelings may seem impossible to overcome.
According to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2021, approximately 4.4 million youths have diagnosed anxiety disorders, 1.9 million have diagnosed depressive disorders and nearly 75 percent of those diagnosed with depression also meet criteria for anxiety disorders.
“The rates of depression and anxiety have increased over time, with approximately one in five youths currently having a diagnosable mental health disorder,” said Mary Lynn Dell, MD, medical director of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.
“Early identification and effective treatment of child and adolescent depression and anxiety would not only improve quality of life, but would provide coping skills [for] many of the stresses that exacerbate poor mental health, such as bullying, adverse social media influences and substance use. And, of course, earlier identification and treatment also will reduce the most extreme consequence of adolescent mental health concerns – suicide.”
But how can professionals and families help? Dr. Dell recommends providing a calm, nonjudgmental presence and healthy routines; permitting youths to grieve, whether it be disrupted friendships, lost opportunities, damaged or lost property, or deaths of family members and others important to them; and encouraging reconnections with friends and family members.
DID YOU KNOW? According to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2021, approximately 4.4 million youths have diagnosed anxiety disorders, 1.9 million have diagnosed depressive disorders and nearly 75 percent of those diagnosed with depression also meet criteria for anxiety disorders.