Identifying and Supporting Mental Health Issues in Adolescents
By Amanda Lee Dayal, Whole School Head of Student Services
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises their own potential, copes with the normal stresses of life, works productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”
Coping with normal day to day things, working productively, realising our potential, it all sounds easy, right? Not for everyone.
Mental health concerns have been around for centuries but they are becoming more prevalent as general awareness of these needs spread and schools begin to train their staff on how to identify and support students needing help. Unfortunately, these issues are often seen as a taboo subject in communities around the globe. Families generally find it challenging to accept that their child may be in need of additional
Identifying these concerns in adolescents is not always easy as teens frequently find various ways of masking their symptoms and hiding it from those around them. The more students feel that it’s ‘not okay’ to ask for help, the higher the chance of potentially serious consequences to their mental wellbeing. Some of the most common problems amongst teens found in schools can include anxiety and depression as well as behavioural and eating disorders.
So what do we look out for? Common symptoms include but are not limited to:
Sudden Changes in Mood or Behavior
Withdrawl or Avoidance of Social Situations with family or friends
Unexplained Physical Changes such as weight loss or gain
Changes in Sleeping habits
Most importantly, once the need for support has been identified, what do we do as teachers and caregivers to make a change and give these teens the support they need?
Relationship building is at the heart of establishing the trust needed for teens to confide in an adult in their life. It’s important teenagers feel that having a mental health issue is normal and that asking for help is the right thing to do in order to get the support they need. To do this, teachers and caregivers should find ways to make connections and build trust with their teens. Don’t be afraid to open up and share a bit about yourself. Let your teen see you as human.
Provide a Safe Space
Teachers and caregivers should create an environment that is welcoming for their teens, creating a sense of belonging in the home and/or classroom. Teens should feel confident coming to speak with you knowing that they will not be exposed to any criticism, discrimination or judgement. Your space should be free of personal bias, ensuring that students feel safe and respected.
Sometimes all it takes is to give time to your teens. Show them you are there for them through the good and the bad. As teachers, make the time in the school day to stop and ask your students how they are feeling. As parents or caregivers, set aside time for purposeful family dinners, activities or evening chats to share about your day to set up a platform for your teens to share as well.