Mental Health
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Just Adolescent Behaviour or Something Else?
January 2023 ~ Happy new year!
Physical health and mental health are connected and equally important, yet open conversation around mental health is still lagging, most often due to stigma, lack of knowledge, or both.
70% of individuals living with a mental illness reported that their symptoms began before the age of 18. This emphasizes the importance of talking about mental health in the younger years which will lay the foundation for positive mental health and resilience throughout their life.

This Snapshot focuses on anxiety and depression, two of the more common mental health concerns for youth.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety means feeling worried, nervous or fearful. We all experience anxiety at times and some anxiety can be helpful. For example, feeling some anxiety before a test, interview or public-speaking can help motivate you to prepare for it.
When someone is threatened or in actual danger, their body has as an alarm system to keep them from harm. It triggers your “flight-fight-freeze” response that helps prepare the body to defend itself. It might have you run from the situation ("flight"), yell or fight back ("fight") or play dead or stay very still ("freeze").
In the absence of immediate danger, our body's 'fight-flight-freeze' response can still get triggered. For example, for some people having to get up and speak in front of a group of people can trigger the body's alarm system in the same way as if there were a real danger.

Anxiety in Tweens and Teens
Anxious teens are different from anxious children. When they‘re younger, kids worry more about things like the dark, monsters, or something bad happening to their parents. But teenagers are more likely to be worried about themselves. Often this looks like perfectionism.
Teens might fear not doing well in school or sports. Or they may be very worried about what other people think about them. It‘s also common for kids to be worried about their bodies. Going through puberty before, or after their friends, is a big trigger.
Some anxious teens have been struggling for a long time, but as they focus more on their peers and more is expected of them in middle school, the anxiety can become more severe. Other times, kids who weren‘t anxious before will suddenly start being anxious as teens. Social anxiety and panic attacks are two kinds of anxiety that often start in the teenage years.
What Does Anxiety Look Like?
Anxiety is often overlooked because teens are good at hiding their thoughts and feelings. Symptoms of anxiety vary widely but these are some of the behaviors that might be a sign that a youth is anxious:
  • Recurring fears and worries about routine parts of everyday life
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Extreme self-consciousness or sensitivity to criticism
  • Withdrawal from social activity
  • Avoidance of difficult or new situations
  • Chronic complaints about stomachaches or headaches
  • Drop in grades or school refusal
  • Repeated reassurance-seeking
  • Sleep problems
  • Substance use (alcohol, vaping, cannabis)
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Anxiety vs Anxiety Disorder
If anxiety is just part of being human, how can it also be a disorder? The difference is in what causes the anxiety to occur and how much it impacts quality of life. 

Problematic anxiety is much stronger, lasts longer, and is harder to control than normal anxiety. It can be a real barrier in people's lives and prevent them from pursuing their usual activities. 
Experts note there are two indicators of a potential anxiety disorder. The first is avoidance - refusing to do things or to go places.

The second is extreme distress which may manifest as difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach pains (or other physical symptoms) that don't come from other medical  conditions.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it gets in the way of an individual's ability to participate in day to day life. Specifically, it is important to think about:
  • the amount of anxiety the child is feeling
  • the level of anxiety
  • how long it's been going on
  • how much the anxiety is getting in the way of how they function
  • how distressing it is for the child and for the family
When the anxiety happens too often and gets in the way of doing things at home, at school or with friends, it's important to seek help. 

Anxiety often leads to depression, too. A life full of avoidance or worry undermines wellbeing. As anxious kids start doing less and less, their depression grows.
It is normal for everyone to feel sad from time to time. Sadness is an understandable emotion, because life is stressful and things happen that make us sad. Most of the time, we find a way to cope and/or accept our situation, and then we move on from our sadness.

Depression is different from normal sadness. Depression is when stresses and feelings
of sadness become overwhelming and do not go away on their own. It‘s a sadness so severe that it interferes with daily activities, preventing a child or youth from living their best life. 
Depression is common. It is estimated that 5-8% of adolescents have depression. Most adults who have depression report that it started when they were young. This is why it is so important to support and treat young people before they become adults. 
Symptoms of depression (also called clinical depression, or major depressive disorder) include:
  • feeling sad, worried, irritable or angry
  • lacking enjoyment in life or having trouble enjoying anything
  • feeling hopeless and worthless
  • having troubles coping with everyday activities at home, school, or work
  • having difficulty with sleep, energy, appetite and concentration
  • hearing voices or having thoughts of harming themselves or others
By definition, clinical depression is when these symptoms last for at least two weeks. 
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How to Help Youth with Depression
Let them know that you notice there is something wrong. “I’m noticing that you seem a bit different these days.”

Express your concern. “I’m worried about you.”

Listen and provide empathy. Listen to your child, without interrupting or jumping to give advice. “I can understand why you must be feeling sad. Thank you for letting me know.”
Offer support. Older youth will have a sense of what they want from you and so you can ask. “How can I support you? Do you need space? Or I can just sit with you quietly and give you a hug?”

Help your child or youth uncover what might be causing stress, and then work through ways to handle those stresses. “I have some ideas about handling the stress with ____ that may help. Would you be open to my ideas?”

Ensure you have regular times where you spend one on one time with your child. During those times your child may start to open up about the issues or stresses happening.

 If you think your child is experiencing depression and/or anxiety you can talk to your child‘s primary care provider and describe the changes that you‘ve noticed in your child. Your child‘s doctor can check to see if there might be medical explanations for your child‘s issues, and can suggest possible places to find help. 
January School Poster
Depression is not uncommon in children and youth. About 2% of children and 4% to 8% of adolescents are affected by major depressive disorder.  A symptom of depression is a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.

This poster aims to let youth know that there is hope and to seek help from an adult they trust.
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The content provided through the Snapshots is for information purposes only. The Snapshots include information that is general in nature and cannot address the many individual child rearing challenges parents and caregivers may experience. Therefore it is the readers‘ responsibility to determine the suitability of the information for their specific needs.

Resources and Sources
Mental Health Literacy - April 2022 Snapshot
Three Proven Ways to Strengthen and Protect Children and Teens Against Anxiety
Here to Help Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety Canada
Kelty Mental Health Anxiety
Kelty Mental Health Depression
Signs of Anxiety in Teenagers
The Foundry empowers young people ages 12-24 to lead healthy lives by providing easy access to tools and strategies for wellness. 
FamilySmart® provides  support and information to families with children and youth with mental health and/or substance use challenges across BC. 
Talking to Children about Suicide

In cased you missed it... last month's Snapshot was on substance use prevention!

Archived Snapshots
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