I specialize in teen mental health.
As we head into a new year, it is my hope that we continue to smash the stigma associated with mental illness, and that we get comfortable being uncomfortable talking about important subjects like depression and teen suicide.
If you find yourself struggling in social situations, experiencing panic attacks or are worried when you are not even sure what you are worrying about – you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Don’t freak out. You are not alone.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses and affect 25 percent of all teens and 30 percent of teen girls. Many experts are seeing a rise in the level of anxiety disorders plaguing our nation – not just in teens, but in adults as well.
But remember that help is always available.
With anxiety as with any mental illness, I don’t think there is a quick fix – and if you are living with anxiety, you must be willing to do the work. You need to be willing to acknowledge it, accept it and address it. If you put in the necessary effort, you can live a very healthy life and cope with your anxiety.
I get it. I have anxiety, and I do the work every day.
Many of today’s teens point to feelings isolation, increased sensitivity and a sense of being misunderstood. Some display narcissistic behavior and a loss of self-control. There is lots of worry, sadness, low self-esteem and an overall dissatisfaction with their lives.
One thing that really concerns me is the need to be perfect.
Some blame all of this on cultural changes. Society’s increasing materialism over the years has damaged relationships and driven a wedge into families. I think we are starting to value money and personal luxuries more than we value our relationships. Is it any wonder our young people are anxious?
Other people – experts – look more closely at teen experiences.
Today, more teens stay in school longer. They delay entering the workforce, which effectively extends the unstructured teenage years – often well into their 20s. I don’t think 18 is the benchmark for adulthood anymore. 24 or 25 is a better estimate.
More teenagers are coming from broken families and from homes with divorced parents than ever before.
If you ask me, though, I think the cause of much of this anxiety stems from teens feeling more alone and that they don’t have any meaningful relationships Perhaps they don’t feel that they are making a noticeable contribution to society and/or they feel that they are a disappointment to themselves and to others.
I think this wave of anxiety has a lot to do with self-esteem and their relationships with significant adults.
Parents: You are the most trusted adults in your child’s life – especially the same-sex parent. But they don’t feel comfortable talking to you.
Why is that?
We need to be less judgmental. We need to validate that their feelings and emotions are common and normal, and that we all have these feelings. It’s OK to feel. It’s OK to have these thoughts.
We need to give our children more of our time. We need to listen without trying to fix their thoughts or the challenges they are going through. Relax.
More kids are self-medicating because more drugs are accessible to our young people today. I think they are asking for help, but the signs aren’t noticeable because we are not looking for them.
Why look for signs when we don’t suspect anything is wrong?
Teenagers: We can’t help you if you are not asking for help and if we don’t know there is something we can do.
My friends, we only know what we know, and we can only do what we have learned.
As parents and trusted adults, we need to make sure we create a safe space of trust where our teens feel comfortable asking for our help without the possibility of judgment. I think we are all responsible for changing the conversation and talking positively about mental health.
Experts also point to a strong sense of entitlement among young people today.
This inflated sense of entitlement is the result of teens being raised to believe that they can do anything because they are special. I get it. We love our kids, but to tell them that can do anything and have everything is to fail them. Your kids are special to you, but they are no more special than anyone else in the classroom or on the athletic field.
We seem to have forgotten about some of the valuable lessons our teens need to learn.
Actor Jim Carrey summed this up perfectly in a commencement speech he made in 2014:
“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention.”
Failure happens. It happens often, and it’s OK. Life isn’t easy. You have to work hard. Not everyone is going to like you. The world is mean, and nobody owes you anything.
We think that we have rights and privileges, but we have gotten away from responsibilities and obligations. Rights and privileges come as a result of being responsible and working hard.
Of course, young people should dream and strive to achieve their dreams – but when a young girl without the innate talent and ability thinks that she can be the next Beyoncé just because her parents told her so, she is likely to be very disappointed when that dream doesn’t materialize.
Many young people are raised by parents who devote all of their energy to raising the perfect child. This concerns me. I think this helps to foster narcissistic sense that a teen is the center of the world.
Here is my best advice if you are struggling with anxiety: You need to get a diagnosis from a medical professional. If it turns out that you have an anxiety disorder, remember that these disorders are highly treatable.
But again, you have to be willing to do the work.
With therapy and perhaps medication, you can learn to relax and enjoy life – but you should know that anxiety often occurs alongside depression. If you notice any sign of depression or lingering sadness, be honest with your doctor at the next appointment.
Therapy and medication under professional medical care can be a game changer.
If you are struggling with anxiety, I want you to know that self-care is not selfish. Take care of you first, and everything else will come together.
The teen suicide epidemic continues to grow, and I believe it ties into mental illness – what is quickly becoming the largest public health crisis of our time. My latest book, Teen Suicide: The "Why" Behind America's Suicide Epidemic, covers these topics in depth. I encourage you to order your copy HERE.