Dr Asha Pemberton
May is mental health awareness month. Our mental health is a critical part of our overall holistic health, and those experiencing poor mental health very often experience untoward physical symptoms. The concept of mind-body connection is the belief that the causes, development and outcomes of a physical illness are determined from the interaction of psychological, emotional and bodily factors.
Teen mental health is in constant flux, with ebbs and flows on a daily basis. Many things can conversely impact this including teen physical health. The connection between the physical body and mental health is important and worth exploration when thinking about staying mentally healthy. This is particularly so during adolescence, when significant changes due to puberty, brain development and emotional health occur concurrently.
Tweens and teens who have good emotional health are aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. They have learned healthy ways to cope with the stress and problems that are a normal part of adolescent life. They feel good about themselves and have healthy relationships.
Characteristics of emotional health include:
• overall psychological well-being
• feelings about self and self-identity
• quality of relationships with friends, family and school
• ability to create and use positive coping skills
• ability to manage feelings
However, many things happen beyond control that can disrupt adolescent emotional health. These can lead to strong feelings of sadness, stress, or anxiety. Even good or wanted changes can be as stressful as unwanted changes. As the developing teen body responds to this stress, states of anxiety or depression can develop. Particularly in young people, physical symptoms including back pain, headaches, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea, fatigue, or sleep disturbances are frequently manifestations of emotional distress.
Improvements in the mind-body connection of adolescents can be achieved through practise of the following strategies:
Stress management techniques
Stress management techniques, including journaling, music, mindfulness or any creative process are all powerful at channelling focus in the moment and supporting stress management in young people. Relaxation methods, such as meditation or deep breathing, are useful ways for teens to bring their emotions into balance.
Invest in yourself
Teen life is hectic. Young people must balance school, interests, family commitments and spending time with friends, all while navigating their own development. Emotional health and balance require that young people schedule time for themselves, to reset and recuperate. Although sometimes misperceived as “laziness,” tweens, teens and young adults do need personal space and time, to clear their minds, process their lives and rest.
Young people with resilience are able to cope with stress and emotions in a healthy way. Resilience can be learned and strengthened with different strategies. These include having social support, keeping a positive self-concept and accepting change and keeping things in perspective.
In our region while we continue to actively advocate and improve in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness, we remain on this journey. Our young people continue to experience high rates of mental ill-health and are unable to access care due to under-diagnosis, lack of acceptance or inability to consistently receive appropriate services. During the weeks of May, let us all consider ways in which we support mental wellness in young people, and indeed all people, through recognition of the mind-body connection and strategies to holistically support wellness.