Young people and mental health in a changing world

A blog entry by Ms Priya Varghese
Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Pratheeksha
Pushpagiri Medical College
Thiruvalla

What are the words that come to our mind when we hear the word ‘youth’? Energetic, impulsive, overconfident, irresponsible, aimless, curious, self-doubt, love affairs, cheerful, enthusiastic, anxious, indecisive and so on. These include both good and bad features. Yes, during this period people have uncertainty of what is good and bad. The period between childhood and mature adulthood is the time when a lot of confusion arises in one’s mind.The term 'storm and stress' was coined by
G. Stanley Hall for this period in his book Adolescence, written in 1904. Hall used this term because he viewed it as a period of inevitable turmoil that takes place during the transition from childhood to adulthood. 'Storm' refers to a decreased level of self-control, and 'stress' refers to an increased level of sensitivity. Hall's perception continues to influence our view of this period of development.

Three main categories of storm and stress described by Hall are:
• Conflict with parents: They rebel against authority figures as they seek greater independence and autonomy.
• Mood disruption: Hormonal changes and the psychological stress of this period can cause uncontrollable shifts in emotions.
• Risky behavior: The combination of a neurological need for stimulation and emotional immaturity leads to increased risk-taking behavior.

Until then they were very close to their parents. They were very obedient children and now they begin to question their parents for the first time.They affirm that they have the ability to make important decisions in their lives. They declare war against parents who are disrupting their desires. They feel surprised to see changes within them and wonder, “Why am I behaving like this? “Why am I not able to control the anger? Do I have any problems? Am I getting abnormal? "- such kind of doubts come to their minds. At this age, most youngsters have to go somewhere out from home for their studies. And then for the first time they see a wide world outside their home. Most parents make phone calls three or four times a day to make sure that their children are safe. This may be irritating for one in this age group. “I need freedom, I am not a small child”- they remind the parents again and again. Study period is a very important time in life. During this period, the student can study well, procrastinate or waste time. The student can choose one from these and the subsequent fifty or sixty years of life will be determined based on his/her decision. Youngsters must be keen when selecting friends. The influence of those who interact with them is very significant. For instance, companionship with those who consume alcohol increases the probability of using it. Things which were not tested earlier get tempting. Rather than acting out impulsively, youth must be thoughtful to stay away from those things that can destroy their lives. So, it is the responsibility of every youth to free their minds from illusions, unrealistic assumptions and irrational beliefs.

Irresponsibility

Lack of responsibility is one of the main complaints many parents have about their children. There is a misunderstanding on the side of parents too. When they raise their children, they try to give them the best in everything. They buy whatever the child asks for, no matter whether it is essential or not. Also, the child is raised without informing about the difficulties being faced by the parents. The problem with many youngsters is the inability to take responsibilities. They never get a chance to do it in their early age. Consequently, they do not have a need to attain something in life. They develop a thought that even if they do not study, their needs will continue to be satisfied by their parents.

Impulsivity

Impulsivity is another feature which is increasing among youths today. In this busy world, parents do not have time to spend with their children. To compensate for their lack of time, they immediately gratify all the needs of their children. So the quality of 'patience' does not develop in them. In one case that happened recently, parents insisted their daughter to completely avoid the mobile phone as it is a distraction during study. The parents were not aware of the fact that the child was a mobile phone addict. She could not adjust with the situation when the phone use was stopped all on a sudden. The girl tried to commit suicide after having a big fight with parents.

Antisocial personality

Looking at the newspaper every day, we can find articles on sexual assault, kidnapping, online sex trade, cheating, robbery, drug trafficking, cyber-crime, murder cases etc. Sadly, in many of these cases young people are among the accused. They start with petty crimes when they feel that their pocket money is not sufficient, but they seldom know that this would slowly take them to extreme atrocities. When an antisocial personality is formed in a person, that person does not feel guilt at all. Mostly these people get involved in criminal behaviors at a small age itself. But, it is seen that many parents do not come forward to control and treat them during their younger years. The reasons for such personality disorder are many of the problems that occur within the family. Family environment and hereditary factors increase the risk of developing antisocial personality disorder.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. Young people have a tendency to experiment with things which are new to them. Substance abuse might start with one’s own choice or from the pressure of friends. Some people will use it as a way to show that they are adults. In many cases, father or family members who drink alcohol do so in front of the kids. The kids who witness this show a strong tendency to model. Hereditary factors also contribute to young people using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Some youths start by saying that they can forget the sorrows and face stress through use of substance. Eventually they get to be too dependent on it. Young people should be taught on how to deal with problems. They need to be taught about effective ways to solve their problems rather than relying on alcohol or drugs.

Addiction to pornography

Today we have everything we need at our fingertips. What we look for is very important. This is usually a period when everyone feels curious about sex. But, like alcohol and drugs, some people also develop an addiction to pornography. The problem with this is that the entire focus is distracted from studies. This kind of addiction prevents them from having a good relationship with the opposite sex. Studies have shown that this may be attributed to the negative attitude towards women among some of the males in our society.

Stress

Everyone experiences stress, and youths are no exception. Having difficulty in making decisions, new living conditions, studies, not knowing what is happening to their body and why they feel a certain way during puberty, problems with friends, being bullied, and romantic relationships are some of the causes of stress among youngsters.
Eating disorder

This is a period when an adolescent becomes very anxious about their beauty. They become very tense on even seeing a pimple on their face. They fear everyday whether they are gaining weight. For some, when they look at the mirror at regular intervals, they feel that they have gained weight. Therefore, they drastically reduce their food intake. When they happen to eat food, they try to vomit it out and this food refusal may cause health problems.
Phobias

Different kinds of irrational fears or phobias can occur in younger people. In phobia, the fear is excessive or out of proportion to the object or situation. People with phobia work hard to avoid certain situations, objects or places which cause fear in them. Phobias are of different kinds. Fear of social situation, fear of closed space, fear of open space, fear of spiders, fear of becoming ill etc. One of the examples of phobia seen recently in a youth is alien phobia. This phobia came from continuously watching Hollywood movies.

Depression

There are many reasons for depression in youth. Love failures, not getting admission for desired course, going away from home for studies, loss of parents or loved ones, physical or sexual abuse, low self-esteem, pessimism etc. are some of them. The symptoms of depression are sadness, suicidal ideation, worthlessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities they used to enjoy, change in weight, having difficulty in sleeping or oversleeping, lack of energy etc.

Suicide

Suicide trend is on the rise among youngsters in India. India is quoted to experience the highest rate of suicide in the age bracket of 15-29 years. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2015 quoted that every hour one student committed suicide in India. Failure in examinations has been blamed as the biggest reason. Parents and schools cannot make children mentally and psychologically ready for the many triggers in the world. People feel suicidal because they feel nothing else will work out and their death will solve the problem. Suicidal thoughts are often linked with a mental disorder.

But there are some other reasons too. There are young people who make an impulsive decision to commit suicide without even thinking how they could solve the problem. Some young people use suicide threats to get their way. Understand that these are symptoms of personality disorder and take these people for proper treatment.

The dangers of self-diagnosis

We can use the internet to understand about any disorder. But, making assumptions and conclusions with little knowledge is dangerous. It can also lead to wrong diagnosis of mental problems. As a result, the problem cannot be resolved. The mental health is as important as the health of the body. If you are in a difficult situation, you should not be ashamed of seeking help from an expert. Our society too has to change the perception on seeking help for mental health issues. Everyone fears that they will be labelled as 'mad' if they go to consult a mental health professional. The time has come for the society to realize and accept that mental illness is also similar to any other kind of illness. Today, those who do not have stress are few. So, there are young people who live in fear and despair, without understanding that they need professional help to get out of their problems. We can give necessary support for the youth and make them realize about their problems. Such kind of intervention may change a person’s life itself. Parents, teachers and friends are obliged to get them treated. Let us strive to make the young people mentally healthy.