My article on Teen Resilience in the Mumbai Mirror. This article was for Mental health Week, in keeping with WHO theme- YOUNG PEOPLE AND MENTAL HEALTH IN A CHANGING WORLD- for “World Mental Health Day” on 10th October 2018.
Resilience comes from the Latin word “resiliens” or the “act of rebounding”. It refers to the ability to “bounce back” from adversity. When faced with tough circumstances, a resilient individual is able to cope with his or her emotions and get back on his or her feet.
In India the leading cause of injury among the youth is suicide and self-harm, as per a 2017 Health Ministry report titled India: Health of the Nation’s States. Considering this, and the alarming increase in the number of teens who report or are found to have mental health problems, the need to develop resilience in them is vital. Developing this quality in your child may keep him or her from falling prey to peer pressure and engaging in risky behaviours later, like using drugs. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), half of all mental illnesses take root by the age of 14, so the time to act is now. Here’s what you can do.
Build a sense of self-respect
Lead the way by saying no to drugs and staying focussed on your career and personal goals, so your child understands your value system and life’s priorities. Respect your body and teach your child to do this too — this means exercising regularly, eating healthy, getting sufficient sleep on a regular basis and limiting the use of gadgets.
Your teen should know to keep you updated about outings, and that he or she is required to share the contact numbers of friends.
Develop their value system
It’s important that kids learn to focus on things and people other than themselves. They must be taught about empathy and to value fairness, honesty and cooperation. Turning the attention to others will provide them with perspective when they’re faced with troubling times.
Change the way they think: Teens are prone to errors in thinking, that render them particularly vulnerable.
■ The ‘all or nothing’ attitude: They tend to take an extreme view of outcomes (as being really good or really bad), leaving no room for the possibility that the result of something may lie in between. So, if a teen was to fail a test, he or she may say to himself or herself, ‘I am useless. I will never be able to find a job when it comes to it.’
■ Nurturing the idea that he or she is a mind-reader: Teens often tend to believe that they know what others are thinking, even in the absence of any evidence to back this up. They tend to think, ‘The whole class was laughing at the error I made. Now they all think I’m a fool,’ which is hardly likely to be the case. It’s far more likely that even those who laughed the loudest will slip up themselves another day, and even if they don’t, they all have other things to worry about, rather than focusing on one colleague’s error.
Teach your children to stop and ask themselves: ‘Does this really matter as much as I think it does? On a scale from 1-10, how bad is it really?’
A guide for teens
When you’re coping with low moods: It would help to seek out people to connect with, and to find ways in which to stay active. Activity is a great antidote for a low mood, and indulging in something you enjoy will increase the happy brain chemicals in a natural way. Other things that may help include staying away from too much sugar, coffee and other stimulants. Also, cut down on the amount of time you spend watching shows with dark content, minimise the time you spend in isolation and avoid people who pull you down. (Note: if a “down” phase lasts longer than two weeks, it may signal depression. Seek professional help).
If you feel like harming yourself: When the level of emotional pain is high, some teens use self-harm (cutting, burning, hitting and such ‘selfpurging’ acts) as strategies to cope. Journaling, calm visualising, replacement strategies (like, snapping a rubber-band or holding a cold fruit in your hand), expressing your feelings through art, seeking out a trusted person and seeking therapy are some techniques which would help overcome these urges.
When you’re tempted to use addictive substances: It’s important to remember that all studies on the subject have found that these substances have long term negative effects on the evolving teen brain. A large longitudinal study in New Zealand found that persistent marijuana use in teens resulted in reduced IQ points in adulthood. Binge drinking can cause cell death in a teen’s brain at a level that would merely cause intoxication in an adult. If you feel your substance use is beyond your control, immediately come clean to a parent and seek help.
If you’ve had your heart broken recently: A breakup is never easy. One thing that will help alleviate the pain you feel: Crying. Just go ahead, and cry your heart out. Do reach out to loved ones, and share your feelings. If you’re reminded of your pain every time you use social media, take a break from it altogether.
If you’ve contemplated suicide or are contemplating it: Call a helpline (Dial the Vandrevala Foundation: 1860-266-2345, 1800-233-3330) immediately. While suicide may seem like the only solution now, it’s just the chemicals in your brain clouding your thinking — a loved one will be able to show you that other options do exist.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror on October 8th 2018.