Both a person’s brain chemistry and their environment can influence their mental state. “Mental health is not simply the absence of a mental health disorder,” Parentalogic cohost Alok Patel says. “Mental health is how all of us cope through everything that we deal with in life.” Teens, who have many “variables to deal with,” Alok says, are uniquely susceptible to mental health disorders. In this episode, hosts Alok and Bethany Van Delft build on the facts presented in Parentalogic’s puberty videos to explain why teens’ mental health care is so important.
Oftentimes, a mental health disorder will be described as a "chemical imbalance," as chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters regulate the different moods one might experience. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin can make a person feel happy and fulfilled. They can be influenced by activities like exercise, spending time with friends, or eating good food. "This is why some adolescents might feel down or tired, then all of a sudden get really excited to go play their favorite sport," Alok says. One step that caregivers can take to promote a teen's mental health is to encourage safe activities that boost their mood.
Some neurotransmitters are dependent on healthy cycles—like a set sleep schedule and regular nutritious meals—to flourish. In Parentalogic’s sleep cycles video, Alok and Bethany explain that teens often have a bevy of responsibilities that can prevent them from sleeping on time. Caregivers can also help promote good mental health by leading by example and limiting their own before-bed screen time at home, for example.
Even if healthy behavior is being promoted at home, teens can still develop a mental illness. If you notice that your child’s sleeping or eating habits have changed, they show little to no interest in what they usually enjoy, and/or they have trouble concentrating, it may be time to start a conversation about their mental health. And if your teen is expressing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, "you should seek emergency help ASAP," Alok says.
As teens grow older and their brains develop, disorders should become more manageable, whether it be through medication or therapy and counseling. "A lot of teens get a big benefit from just talking to someone," Alok says. Addressing mental health stigma and building trust with your teen can help them feel safe and secure through this stage of life.
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Teens and Mental Health
Published: September 13, 2021
Bethany Van Delft: I don't know about you, OK, but teen years were hard, hard for me, it was hard. I was five foot 10 by the time I was 13 years old, so I was way too tall. People called me Big Bird all the time because I had a big afro.
Alok Patel: You said you were too tall. I felt too short. I was the little brown kid and I used to get teased. You blossomed, first of all.
Bethany Van Delft: You too!
We did all right.
Alok Patel: One out of five US adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder.
Bethany Van Delft: I was one.
Alok Patel: You were?
Bethany Van Delft: Yes. I had bad anxiety. I still have it, but I manage it.
Alok Patel: Mental health is not simply the absence of a mental health disorder Mental health is how all of us cope through everything that we deal with in life and think about all the variables teens have to deal with.
Bethany Van Delft: I mean, really add anything to the mix of what's going on in the teen's body.
And so, like, what is going on in a teenager's head, like with all the mood swings and the outbursts? I have to say I am not looking forward to that stage. Are they possessed by a cranky spirit or is there something actually happening in their brain that's making this happen and making them not love us anymore?
Alok Patel: Well, they are possessed by a cranky spirit that is called adolescent brain development. And hopefully this adds a little bit of empathy to the teenage experience.
So check this out. The parts of our brain that really deal with emotions like reward and happiness and sorrow and all that stuff, areas of the brain like the amygdala actually develop faster than the part of the brain that deals with problem solving, planning and acting out the prefrontal cortex.
Bethany Van Delft: So it's like a whole theater company of emotions without a director yet or director saying,
So does the brain provide any any remedy, is there anything in the brain that can help all of this?
Alok Patel: There are little chemicals that go throughout our brain to accomplish all sorts of different tasks. Help regulate our moods, make us feel happy, satisfied and love living life. like neurotransmitters in my brain right now, because I'm hanging out with you this lovely day talking about stuff, I feel good. That's my dopamine, those are my endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin. Serotonin itself can regulate your mood, appetite, sleep, helps to inhibit pain.
These neurotransmitters we talk about can be absolutely influenced by our daily activities. And some of these are obvious, like exercising, hanging out with friends. We are mammals, we're social creatures.
But then there's other activities that are also really important for mental health that are a little bit more discreet to teens such as eating a well-balanced diet, which is really important for serotonin production. Remember that gut brain connection? And let's not forget about sleep, which is really important for not just mental health, but our total body health.
And you know what it's like to be a teen. Teens like to stay up late at night watching TV on the screens, playing video games and pushing back sleep when we should be encouraging them to actually get a good night's rest. And we can also lead by example.
Bethany Van Delft: Mm-hmm. Yes, what are some clear cut signs that it might be a good time to reach out to a teen?
Alok Patel: I think one general thought is that even if we give people clear cut signs, it's just simply important to check in with your teen or, you know, if there's a teen that you supervise in any capacity or interact with just every now and then to check in and be like, how are you doing? How are things going? How are things at home?
There are some clear, good things we should look out for, like changes in sleep, sleep too much sleeping too little changes in eating patterns, you know, trouble concentrating on school sports tasks or talking to people thoughts of self-harm, thoughts of suicide.
If their symptoms or their feelings are affecting their ability to go to school, interact with their friends, family, do the things they love.
Or if any of these warning signs for a few weeks or longer, you should definitely seek help as soon as you can. And for any child who may be having harmful thoughts or thoughts of suicide, you should seek emergency help ASAP.
So, yes, there are some clear cut warning signs, if you will. But honestly, any deviation from your child's normal routine, you know, any anything that might be different is just a time for you to check in.
Bethany Van Delft: I don't have teenage kids, my kids are still pretty young but I do try, whenever possible to empathize with where they’re at. Like if my five year old has a tantrum about something and I’m like what is that about, this isn't that serious but I try to imagine what is that like to be that height, to be powerless in their environment and I try to empathise and connect with him on that level. So I don't know what it's like to have teenagers but I wonder if that would be helpful when this time comes, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to watching this episode over and over again when they are teenagers.
Alok Patel: Crushing the stigma, helping teens feel safe, secure and building trust and helping teens know whom they can talk to is how we can work together to increase early intervention, which is key when it comes to helping teens who may be going through a crisis, having questions about mental health or an actual diagnosable mental health disorder.
Helping teens get through a mental illness. It's not just about medications. There's also talk therapy, counseling. And a lot of this is now available, you know, via apps. And you can use your smartphone and you can talk to a certified mental health professional. And a lot of teens get a real big benefit from just talking to someone and running through what they're going through.
Empowering you and helping you live life. This is why you might feel good after you go and do your favorite dance. Dance? This is why…
Hosted by Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft
Producer/Camera/Director: Emily Zendt
Producer/Director: Ari Daniel
Production Assistance: Diego Arenas, Christina Monnen, Arlo Pérez
Senior Digital Editor: Sukee Bennett
Rights Manager: Hannah Gotwals
Business Manager: Elisabeth Frele
Managing Producer: Kristine Allington
Coordinating Producer: Elizabeth Benjes
Director of Public Relations: Jennifer Welsh
Legal and Business Affairs: Susan Rosen and Eric Brass
Director, Business Operations and Finance: Laurie Cahalane
Executive Producers: Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt
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