Category Archives: Teen Mental Health

Teen Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health has again been in the UK press this morning- this time regarding the inadequate care and treatment of suicidal teens.

Mental heath issues during the teenage years is a topic very close to my heart. I had some extremely despairing thoughts and feelings whilst in high school and sixth form. My mood had started swinging from the age of about 13 onwards. It never occurred to me that I had an illness.

Depression & Anxiety During School Years

Sobbing silently in my bedroom I tried to conceal my unhappiness from my parents to protect them. They both had depression and the last thing I wanted was to make them worse! I was so lonely. I didn’t even know what I was crying about half the time. But I remember that desperate helplessness and thinking that things would never get better for me. I was angry and jealous that the other kids seemed to find school so easy to cope with, whilst I found it extremely stressful, even traumatic.

I was terrified of a couple of boisterous, aggressive lads in our class. Their chaotic, angry natures disturbed me a lot and I felt extremely uncomfortable even having them in the class. They weren’t particularly horrible to me, but their behaviour to others was enough to affect me negatively.

The jostling, pushing and rushing through crowds of chaotic kids, in a mad scramble to get from one class to the next, was enough to leave me feeling exhausted! I never really knew why. I was always so affected with anxiety in these situations- I was in a chronic state of stress.

I think all this was a part of my general unhappiness with my teenage life. I was so sensitive and really needed a calm, quiet working environment, even then. School was an unsettling, disturbing, even threatening environment for me- and I went  to a fairly decent school! I dreaded Monday mornings with a passion.

Parental Depression

This was just one aspect of the difficulties I encountered as a teenager. In retrospect I wish my parents or teachers had done more to help me. There was a vague attempt to speak with my parents when I had frequent short episodes of sickness from school, but nothing ever came of it. My parents knew I cried regularly due to red, puffy eyes, but my Mum attributed it to hormones. I think they should have sent me to a doctor or counsellor.

I wish I had known sooner that I was experiencing mental illness. I just thought I was defective and felt in the wrong place on the wrong planet. I couldn’t talk to anybody at all about how I felt. I was so worried about making Mum & Dad’s depression worse. I felt completely responsible for their happiness. I didn’t realise I was only responsible for mine.

Awareness & Intervention

I was so innocent and naive. How could I have known I was ill or that there was help available out there? Why didn’t anyone do anything to help me? I don’t think I could have hidden it all that well, could I? Maybe I did! It was an extremely lonely time. This and the anxiety were a constant.

So yeah, I feel exceedingly for teenagers who are experiencing their own, or their parents’, mental health problems. I think as much as anything I just wish that someone, anyone, had noticed and got me to a doctor or counsellor whilst I was still that young. I think parents and teachers (I know they are very overloaded already, but they are important to kids) should be made more aware of the signs a kid is experiencing difficulties with mental ill health s intervention can be taken earlier. I’m sure I wasn’t completely devoid of signs of my illness, I just didn’t know that help was available or how to ask for it.

You Never Have to be Alone.

If I could revisit my 13-year-old-self today, I would tell her that her repeated, despairing sobs weren’t normal and that she doesn’t have to suffer in silence or alone. There is help available to her. An earlier diagnosis would have helped me enormously, just so I could feel that at least there was a clinical reason for my emotional pain- I wasn’t just a freak!

Maybe this was all just my experience. Maybe kids these days are better informed and get help more quickly than I did. But judging by the news article today, enough still isn’t being done to help teenagers in distress.

Resources & Links

BBC Newsbeat

Teen Mental Health

Child and Adolescent Mental Health

The Guardian- Today’s Youth: Anxious, Depressed & Anti-Social

School-based Mental Health Support Results in Positive Outcomes for Children

Photo Credit: David Castello Dominici

Free To Be Average

I’m currently reading the psychology classic The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller- which takes a comprehensive look at the psyche of those afflicted by Grandiosity (present in Narcissism and Mania) and Depression. She is able to delve deeply into the psychological past of those who have developed these symptoms (Bipolar/Narcissistic Personality/Borderline Personality amongst other disorders) and- as a very basic summary of her theories- attributes it to the following:


1. Not being able to freely feel our authentic emotions, feelings, needs.

We have repressed our feelings, needs and emotions as children due to insecure parenting. Theses authentic emotions and needs in the negative, such as despair, anger, loneliness, jealousy, helplessness,etc were threatening to our mother’s sense of security, inconvenient and anxiety-provoking. (This is due to our mother’s insecure parenting during her childhood. Secure mothers are able to deal more effectively and skillfully with these needs in their children).

Children need the love of their parents to survive, so shut off these anxiety-provoking emotions.

2. Furthermore the child develops an assigned family role to boost the insecure family.

To boost the family’s social standing/insecurities, the child is “assigned” a role, using their talents, achievements, special abilities, beauty or behaviour (good, mature, pure, virtuous, helpful, perfect- strong link with Christian families I think!).

So not only are we forbidden from “bad” behaviour, some of us also become “achievers”. Self-respect is therefore now dependent on qualities, functions, achievements and performance, all variables that can ultimately fail us.

Because of theses expectations that have been ingrained in us, and the lack of being able to experience our authentic self (therefore love), we seek ADMIRATION as a substitute for LOVE. However, as admiration is aimed at the achievements, beauty or behaviour, this is NOT our TRUE SELF.  Our true self is whole and encompasses all those needs and emotions and inconveniences. It needs love not admiration.

My Own Issues.

Looking at my life so far from the viewpoint of Alice Miller it is so easy to see where I have developed my highly vigilant people-pleasing. I’m still living like this- terrified to feel rage and grief and jealousy for the fear of “God” (the old, childish view of God I used to have), my parents and even now, my boyfriend. I am terrified of being abandoned and deep down do not believe I am capable of taking care of myself.

Due to Bipolar I have “lost” my gifts of achievement and am now living as an underachiever. I guess I am now on the journey to loving and accepting myself as I am and allowing myself to be average.

Even though I’m trying to tell myself it’s safe and OK to be average, inside I’m screaming no it bloody well isn’t! I have to be the best at everything otherwise what’s the damn point!!! The only point in drawing something or performing or behaving “well” is to secure approval from other people. If what I do is crap, there’s no point in doing it!! I HAVE to be the BEST!!!!!! I can’t be average – Mum & Dad will just trample all over me. They see no point in the arts except for enjoyment, so maybe if I can be the best at them, they’ll let me have a career in them?! I’ll show them!

Woah! I didn’t know I felt like that! Rationally I know the point is enjoyment, fun, creativity and fulfilling my artistic needs, or in the case of emotions- expressing my anger etc to keep me emotionally healthy. I can logically see the point, it just hasn’t internalised yet, I guess it takes time.  How weird that things your parents have said to you as kids still linger so deep in the memory.

Resources

For some great perfectionism therapy try listening to Perfect by Alanis Morisette

Related posts on this site: Bipolar Disorder: Repressed Anger; Bipolar and Perfectionism: Part One; Bipolar and Perfectionism: Part Two

Related posts from others: A Different Take on Perfectionism; The Poison of Perfectionism; The Ten Commandments of Perfectionism; The Perfect Sinner.

(Photo Credits: Perfect Student- Stuart Miles, Stressed Girl- kenfoto)