I hear it all too often, youth saying they have anxiety when what they really mean is that they are feeling anxious. If you listen to the news you would believe that our youth are in crisis . The data would suggest otherwise 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime . It’s true and needs to be addressed and has been for the past 20 or so years. The stats have not changed. What’s also true is that 4 out of every 5 Canadians don’t have a mental health disorder and it’s up to us to teach the difference between a disorder and everyday feelings that we all have. Some may need the assistance of a professional to understand the difference. Your School Counsellor is a good place to start. They are trained professionals who understand the difference and can assist in finding supports.
For the 1 in 5 youth that will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime we need to assist them in getting all the supports necessary. For the youth that are experiencing distress over a multitude of concerns we must also listen and support them , teaching them how to cope with life’s challenges and concerns. Supporting youth with their feelings helps us understand what steps to take next. Their feelings are important , so we must not dismiss them.
Words do matter and helping our youth become literate when it comes to mental health can have a positive impact. If you need resources and ideas on how to make that happen check out teenmentalhealth.org. You can also find more information on anxiety here and here.
If you are wondering whether a youth truly has an anxiety disorder, some waitful watching may be in order. Don’t be quick to jump to a diagnosis ( and a reminder that you must be qualified to do so ) even then waitful watching is a good idea.
Some questions to reflect on :
Frequency : How frequent are the anxious feelings? Once or more a day , once a week , once a year?
Duration: How long do the feelings last? A few minutes, hours , weeks , months?
Intensity: Does the youth avoid situations because they are too anxious to cope? Is the anxiety taking control of them instead of them controlling it? Are they having trouble coping with everyday life because of their anxiety?
Have they seen a medical doctor to rule out any other medical concerns?
The impact that social media has on kids is undeniable. A recent article in the New York Times highlights some of the more concerning issues.
I don’t think we need much convincing that social media has had an impact on all our lives and it is not going away anytime soon. I am a neophyte when it comes to social media, but in my work with children and their families over the past 30 years has allowed me a first hand insight into the world of children and their families.
What can we do as parents, counsellors and educators to mitigate the impact that social media is having on our young people? As in any situation where we are trying to teach children, we ourselves need to be the role model. We need to examine the message we send our kids when we are engaged in use of our own devices. What parameters do we have for ourselves when it comes to use of devices? Do we actually have discussions with our kids about amount of usage, times and places that are no go zones for adults and kids? Do we understand the safety issues and if not do we educate ourselves about these issues and discuss them with our children? Yes, with any privilege comes responsibility, both for us as the adult and for our children whom we must guide to be ethical digital citizens. Don’t let their media skills fool you! Although they appear to be very savvy in the area of technology, they do not have the life experience or a fully developed brain that allows them to project the outcome of what they may see as just having a little fun or wanting to fit in.
Often I am asked the question, ” Why do so many kids today suffer from anxiety ?” There is no easy answer to this question but there are many more questions that we need to ask. In particular, “What is it that appears to be causing such an increase in child and adolescent anxiety? Is it related to social media? Are we over pathologizing what may be normal reactions to stressful situations in our environment. According to Dr Stan Kutcher, a leading psychiatrist from Dalhousie University, “anxiety is a gift we have inherited from our ancestors to protect us from threat and to kick-start ambition; to fight it we have to face it.” In order to “face it” we need to first of all understand what is happening and then respond to it in a manner which will allow us to maximize the outcome.
In other words we can use the anxiety or stress, to benefit us in our day-to-day functioning. If we see it as a gift, we respond from a totally different repertoire or mindset than if we see it as a threat. A gift is something positive, something we welcome, something that may make things easier for us, or at times may challenge us and help us grow. How can we work with our kids to help them understand and see anxiety as a gift? What are some strategies that will help them develop a different mindset? Additionally, what part does social media play and are we, as parents, educators, and counsellors, contributing to the mindset of threat or gift? In my next guest post I will explore these very questions and discuss ways to unpack the gift of anxiety.