All over the world we are experiencing a serious mental health pandemic. Children, adolescents and adults suffer more and more problems anxiety and depression. So much so that suicide rates are truly worrying. In Spain, the incidence in young people between the ages of 15 and 19 is 2.65 per 100,000 inhabitants, rising to 5 per 100,000 in the next age group, from 20 to 24 years. Therefore, detect the anxiety in adolescents It can be an important step to prevent them from continuing to drag them into adulthood or from escalating their problems.
It is important that family and teachers know how to recognize the early signs of anxiety in adolescents. But also that it is the adolescents themselves who learn to recognize these signs and know how and when to ask for help. It is also essential destigmatize psychological care. Luckily, today the stigma is not as big as it was not many years ago. In fact, the younger generations They have it pretty normalized. Even so, the awareness work has not finished.
Just as the need to fight for a quality mental health care. There are many countries that demand better care in public health services. In Spain, for example, there are barely enough psychologists to deal with the large number of cases of depression or anxiety in adolescents, but also in other age groups. Other countries, like the UK, complain about exactly the same problem. For this reason, awareness and activism are essential to stop this pandemic, to which not as many resources are being allocated as to others, despite the fact that the consequences can be equally dire.
The consequences of anxiety in adolescents
A recent study carried out in Singapore concluded that young people in this country lose on average 24 days of classes a year because of problems such as anxiety or depression. In addition, his school performance has been reduced by 63% because of all these mental health issues.
What can start being something punctual can give rise to generalized anxiety disorders, in which anxiety remains constant, almost every day, for at least 6 months. Besides, can persist into adulthood, also causing problems to socialize and find work. This becomes a vicious cycle, as those problems can lead to other mental health conditions, such as depression.
All this without counting what we have already mentioned about the increase in suicide rates. The situation affects both boys and girls, although it is especially serious in the latter, according to an article published by two English doctors in 2020.
Said article also focused on the possible causes of this increase in depression problems and anxiety in adolescents and young adults. It is noted that they are millennials the first to show this increased rates of mental health problems. It is something that could be due to the fact that this generation has spent years living with the rising youth unemployment loss of social mobility and decreased housing affordability, which delays maturation into the role of independent adult.
On the other hand, these same specialists maintain that social networks have also played an important role in the appearance of anxiety problems in adolescents. It is something that the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with, which establishes this as one of the main causes of these mental health problems. Also, add the high expectations and pressure to succeed and the fear to a world that, lately, has been shown to be even more threatening.
The first step is to know what it is…
To detect anxiety, of course, the first step is to know what it is. In reality, anxiety in adolescents and in any age group is a natural evolutionary response that arises in threatening situations. It comes from what is known as the response of fight or flightwhich can be understood very well if we think about our ancestors.
We can imagine one of the first Homo sapiens, finding himself before a lion. At that point, he must evaluate if he has a chance to run away or if, on the contrary, he has no choice but to fight. In both cases, he will need extra energy, which should be directed mainly to the muscles of the extremities. This is why, when we have anxiety, we feel that muscles tense. In addition, it increases the heart and respiratory rate, to provide a good blood supply and oxygenate the body in the face of fight or flight. In general, all the physical effects of anxiety are due to this adaptive response.
Nowadays, we don’t usually have before us a lion. But he can be a car that skips a zebra crossing or a storm. In these cases, anxiety reactions are positive. Even when we are stressed, it can be good up to a point. The problem comes when we see situations as threats that really aren’t, like shopping. In addition, people with generalized anxiety tend to ruminate and think about things a lot. everyday situations that are not really serious. In this way, you get to experience anxiety even when there are no stimuli.
… and the second detect it
Once we already know what anxiety is, how can we recognize it? As adults, we tend to be more familiar with mental health issues. However, in the case of the youngest, it is important that the adults who are close to them stay alert. So how can we detect anxiety in adolescents?
For starters, as we have seen with the Singapore study, if school performance drops for no apparent reason it may be a reason. Instead of berating the child for her academic results, it is essential to try to understand the reasons. But that is not all.
Other signs of anxiety in adolescents are recurring fears in everyday situationsthe humor changes and the avoidance of certain activities, either at school or socially. In addition, they can show trouble sleeping either physical symptomssuch as headaches or stomach aches. In those cases, if no physical cause is found, it may be due to anxiety. Finally, it is important to be very aware of possible substance use, as this can also accompany anxiety.
Anxiety in adolescents: what can we do?
The first step, of course, is to talk to them. They should know that they are not alone and that they can talk about what worries them. But it is not enough to talk. It is also important psychological help. Anxiety is usually treated through cognitive behavioral therapy. It is the one with the most scientific evidence and with which the best results are obtained.
In some cases, it may also be necessary to psychotropic drugsbut these must accompany the therapy.
Awareness and literacy
The authors of the Singapore study argue that the awareness and literacy of parents and other adults is essential. This means that it is important that they know how to recognize and act on anxiety in adolescents.
For that, projects like Mentoscopy. This is a multimedia project, developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Innovation of the Government of Spain and the Spanish Federation of Science and Technology (FECYT). Its objective is to disseminate about mental health in adolescence.
For this reason, they use the channels with which the youngest are most familiar. That is to say, they take out the positive part of those social networks whose misuse can lead to mental health problems. Instagram reels, TikTok videos or podcast episodes These are some of the formats in which information pills are provided on a multitude of topics related to anxiety in adolescents, but also to other mental health topics. They are useful formats for the youngest, although they are also aimed at teachers, family members or health professionals. The objective is precisely that claimed by the Singapore study. Raise awareness and literacy.
Therefore, it can be a first step to prevent this mental health pandemic from making its way among the youngest, to continue expanding year after year in the following age groups. If we cut the root problem, many greater evils can be avoided. AND Mentoscopy He does a vital job in that regard.