“This is my age! I'm in the prime of my youth, and I'll only be young once!”
Teddy from Stand by Me (1986)
If there was a movie that touches on the experiences of being young, it would have to be Stand by Me.
A quote by Teddy as stated above sums up the journey that each young person must make during this time – a journey that is truly personal and unique to them alone.
Mental Health, Anxiety and Young People
It is a beautiful time as they develop deeper relationship and friendship with their peers, uncover their talents, interests, and strengths. Yet, being a child, and eventually a young person, also comes with it many confusions and uncertainties.
This is when the person tries to make sense of who they truly are and who they would like to be. It is a time of constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing one’s identity.
As professionals who work with young people, we are in a privileged position to walk alongside our young people as they make sense of this truly special period of their life.
This February let us reflect on the importance of children and young people’s mental health as we celebrate Children’s Mental Health Week.
There are many terms used to describe this special group of people, such as adolescent, youth, child and young person.There also tends to be further classification within this population depending on one’s age range.
For example, a child is from 0-13 years of age. Adolescent is from 10-19 years of age. Young people from 15-24 years old. For simplicity, we will refer to this population collectively as ‘young people’ (Best Practice Journal, 2015).
And, as described earlier, young people today face many challenges that can bring stresses in their life: pressure from school and peers, influence of social media, work-study-life demands and of course the tremendous impact the global pandemic that is unique in this generation.
All these stressors can become too much for the young person and could impact negatively on their mental health.
It is known that one in seven of those aged between 10-19 globally will experience a mental disorder. On the most serious end, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 19 (World Health Organization [WHO], 2021).
It is also notable that depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems for young people (WHO, 2021). Despite these staggering statistics, it is never too late to make positive impact to the lives of young people. All of us can make a difference.
Prevention is key
As professionals who work with this group, we should never underestimate the position we have to intervene and respond early to the needs of the young person.
Often, young people may not be able to clearly verbalise and articulate their needs or things that cause them stress and uneasiness. It is often complicated by many things including shame, guilt, peer pressure or uncertainties. Bottling these negative emotions inside without a safe and trusted outlet can make young people vulnerable to anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal emotion that functions to signal that a person maybe facing a threat or danger that needs attention. It is fine to feel anxious occasionally (Ministry of Health, 2021).
However, for some young people, they live in constate state of anxiety.
This makes anxiety a common mental health problem with young people as it makes them feel frightful and afraid, detracting them from focusing and participating in productive activities.
Quite often, anxiety of young people is unnoticed and unaddressed. For some young people, anxiety could eventually lead to crisis.
Crisis is characterised by instability and chaos in the person’s life. In acute state of crisis, there is severe dysfunction in the person’s emotion, cognition and behaviour that can lead to a person becoming a risk to themselves or others, or have reduced capacity to care for themselves (Rossiter & Scott, 2017).
Anxiety as Opportunity for Intervention
In CPI's Safety Intervention programme, anxiety is recognised as a ‘change in typical behaviour’ of an individual and is the starting point of potential crisis. It is the stage we could proactively respond by providing empathic and supportive approach to minimise the person reaching crisis and maximise safety.
Empathic and supportive approaches may be as simple as being wholly present to the young person and being available to talk to. Yet, its impact is powerful and far-reaching. Our response in their anxiety can be the difference for the young person reaching crisis or feeling safe and affirmed.
As we celebrate the mental health of children and young people, let us always remember that we can make a positive and significant impact to the mental wellbeing of young people. Let us recognise that for every interaction we have with a young person is a special opportunity to lessen their anxiety, listen to their needs and let them know that we care.
Best Practice Journal. (2015). Addressing mental health and wellbeing in young people. Retrieved from https://bpac.org.nz/BPJ/2015/October/docs/BPJ71- wellbeing.pdf
Ministry of Health. (2021). Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and- treatments/mental-health/anxiety
Rossiter, R., & Scott, R. (2017). Trauma, crisis, loss and grief In K. Evans, D. Nizette, & A.
O'Brien (Eds.), Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing (4th ed.). New South Wales, Australia: Elsevier.
World Health Organization. (2021). Adolescent mental health.
Retrieved from https://www.who.int/newsroom/factsheets/detail/adolescent- mental-health