In my opinion, one of the most overlooked facts in world mental health is that of the health of teenagers, wherever they may be from in the world. Illnesses often start with the onset of puberty due to changing hormones. This means that illnesses in the mind and brain like bipolar, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addictions, self harm, eating disorders, trauma can all start in the teen years.
Understandably, this sounds alarming as children at age 15/16 are still children, still developing physically and mentally. In the UK, where I live, children have free health care but there are significant waiting lists for psychotherapy and treatment. Children are having to be driven around the country to find a hospital bed- sometimes 50 or more miles away from home, such is the crisis in our country. However, hope is not lost and our health system is still one of the best in the world at treating mental health conditions.
I can say there are some fantastic, kind and caring psychiatric nurses and doctors working in childrens wards with teenagers. The Children/ adolescent mental health service, referred from your GP is the first port of call if your child or friend is suffering- or A &E in a Crisis situation where they can be referred to hospital if needed.
Recently in the UK, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have highlighted the need for more funding in CAMHS Children/Adolescent mental health in the National Health Service. This has brought mass media exposure to the issue, however we do know that historically, mental health budgets were the first to be cut. As society progresses, there is hope that one day physical health care and mental health care will be similarly funded. MPs such as Luciana Berger, Minister for Mental Health have highlighted this too.
So what do you do if your child or teen friend is unwell? Most importantly, do not blame yourself. They may have an illness at this moment but they can recover with the right treatment. Seek advice from the professionals- psychiatrists, nurses, GPs, therapists and make sure they get the most support that they need. As a parent, do not bury your head in the sand as it will make your child worse. Your job is to protect them and help them get better.
Make sure you get clarification on exactly what is going on, which illness or illnesses are suspected and talk to the Doctor about it. Its not great to research too much on the internet before your child has received a diagnosis. Many psychiatric medications work on a trial and error basis and some do not have instant results, so be aware of this.
Try to be as calm as possible when speaking to your child so that they do not get heightened emotionally and get upset or distressed.
If you are estranged from your child- the best thing you can do is to let professionals take over and help. Most importantly be supporting and non stigmatised and make sure your child or friend gets help.
Illnesses, some chronic, can start in the teen years. However, even if they are ‘life long’- they can be managed and treated with medication and psychotherapy. Every teen is an individual but as long as they have a good loving support network and medical team, they can recover.