Emotional well-being of adolescents
This topic provides tips for emotional well-being of adolescents.
Adolescence is a time of enormous changes in life – physical, psychological and social. These changes can be stressful. Experiencing anxious, sad and angry thoughts and feelings is a normal part of adolescence. However, if these thoughts or feelings persist for more than several days, and especially if they prevent someone from being able to carry out their normal daily activities, this may be an indication of a mental disorder.
Many adolescents suffer from problems such as anxiety and depression, which cause them pain and suffering. Some adolescents harm themselves as a result of these problems. Sadly, suicide is a leading cause of death among adolescents. However adolescents could take steps to protect their emotional well-being, and as with other illnesses, there is much that caring people around them could do to help.
Messages for adolescents on emotional well-being
- Adolescence is a time of enormous change in one’s life. These changes can be stressful.
- Spending time every day doing things that you enjoy, being with people whom you like and doing some physical activity can help to prevent and reduce stress.
- Feeling anxious, sad or angry from time to time is normal. Talking to friends, your parents or other trusted adults can be helpful. They can give you comfort and support, and help you to think things through clearly.
- Do not use tobacco, alcohol or other substances as a way of coping when you are under pressure, or are feeling anxious, sad or angry. Alcohol and other substances can make feelings of depression and anxiety worse. You may become addicted to these substances.
- Do not act hastily or impulsively when you are under pressure or are feeling anxious, sad or angry. You may be tempted to pick a fight or ride a motorcycle fast as a way to deal with these feelings. This will put you and others at great risk of injury.
- If you have sad, anxious or angry thoughts and feelings every day for several days and especially if they affect you from doing your daily activities (for example, doing your school work), or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others seek help from a health worker.
Messages for parents on emotional well-being of adolescents
What you should know
- Adolescence is a time when young people acquire the skills they need to become independent adults. During this time, many adolescents\appear to reject their parents’ guidance, and withdraw from the close attachment they had with them when they were younger. This can be difficult for parents to accept. However, all adolescents still need, and benefit greatly from, the support and guidance of parents. Feeling needed by and being valued by one’s family can give a young person a positive sense of well-being.
- Adolescents need to develop the skills to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday life, as well as emotions such as sadness and anger in a healthy way. They also need to know that they can ask their parents for help when they find that they cannot cope by themselves.
- With prompt diagnosis and effective treatment, adolescents with many mental health problems can get back to good health and to productive lives.
What you should do
- Make every effort to communicate with your son or daughter. Encourage them to share their hopes and expectations, fears and concerns with you. Show interest in their activities and viewpoints. Show that you care for them through your words and actions. Let them know that you will always be there to support them when needed. Encourage them to contribute to family and community activities.
- Talk to your son or daughter about healthy ways of dealing with the stresses and strains of everyday life, such as doing activities that they find relaxing, being with people they like, and doing some physical activity.
- Warn them of the dangers of using tobacco, alcohol or other substances as a means of dealing with negative thoughts and feelings. Also, warn them that when they are upset they could do things – such as picking a fight or driving dangerously – that could cause harm to themselves or others. Talk to them about the importance of asking for help when they feel that they cannot handle their problems by themselves.
- Be watchful for changes in the mood or behaviour of your son or daughter. Common signs of stress or mental illness include: changes in sleeping patterns; changes in eating patterns; decreased school attendance or performance; difficulties in concentration; a persistent lack of energy; frequent crying or persistent feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, sadness and anxiety; persistent irritability; frequent complaints of headache or stomach ache and the excessive use of alcohol or other substances. If any of these changes are marked or last for several days, seek help from a health worker.
- Seek help from a health worker immediately, if your son or daughter has thoughts of harming or killing himself/herself or others.
The use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances
Adolescence is a time of curiosity and experimentation. Many adolescents experiment with tobacco, alcohol and other substances. They do this for different reasons – to feel and act older, to fit in with friends, to challenge adults, or to relieve stress.
The use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances can lead to negative health consequences both during adolescence, and into adulthood.
- Tobacco use stains fingers, lips and teeth. It also causes bad breath. Smokers tend to be less fit and get short of breath more easily. Tobacco also causes problems later in life – notably cancer and heart disease.
- The consumption of alcohol, even in small amounts, can impair judgement. The consumption of large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time can cause neurological and liver damage.
- Using cannabis, heroin, amphetamines or cocaine can cause damage to the brain, liver, kidney and lungs both in the short and long terms. Injecting substances with shared needles and syringes greatly increases the likelihood of getting HIV.
- Substances such as tobacco, heroin, amphetamines and cocaine can induce dependence. Being dependent on these substances impairs the ability of people to carry out everyday activities and can lead to tensions with family members, friends and others. Most people who develop dependence on substances do so during their adolescence.
- While under the influence of alcohol or other substances people do things that they would not normally do, such as: driving dangerously, being verbally or physically violent, or having unprotected sexual activity. Many adolescents die from motor vehicles crashes under the influence of these substances.
Messages for adolescents
- Do not be pressured into using tobacco, alcohol or other substances by people around you, or by images on television etc.
- Talk to your friends, parents or other trusted adults if someone offers you substances to use. They could help you avoid using them.
- If you have started using alcohol or other substances, seek help from your friends, parents or other trusted adults. They could help you give up their use.
- If you do use alcohol or other substance that impair judgement, do so with someone you trust and in a safe place. You are more likely to suffer an overdose if you consume substances on your own, and are more likely to be a victim of crime or violence if you are alone and in an unsafe place.
- If you do use alcohol or other substances that can impair your judgement, avoid driving a car, motorcycle or bicycle while under their influence.
Messages for parents
What you should know:
- Increasing the awareness of your son or daughter about the dangers of substance use, and helping them become aware of the influence that peers and the media can have, can help them avoid substance use.
- Early detection of substance use, followed by counselling by health workers, has been shown to be effective in motivating adolescents to give up their use or to reduce the harm it could cause them.
What should you do:
- Talk to your son or daughter about the dangers of using tobacco, alcohol or other substances. Do this in early adolescence. Do not wait until their use has started.
- Discuss with your son or daughter the influence that their peers and images in the media could have in persuading them to initiate substance use. Explain to them the importance of deciding what is best for themselves. 166 Adolescent Job Aid
- Make clear what your expectations regarding their behaviour are. Provide a good role model through your own behaviour.
- Be watchful for signs of substance use by your son or daughter. If and when you notice them, discuss the matter, and together seek help from a health worker.