Mental health issues amongst adolescents the Challenge of the hour

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BENGALURU: Adolescents aged 10-19 go through a cacophony of physical, mental, emotional and psychosocial transformation. They form a large demographic dividend in our country accounting for 21 per cent of the population.But the current challenges that adolescents face are like never before. There is a culture of quick and easy gratification, flooding and intrusion of technology into lives, mobile and VDU addiction, a barrage of information and misinformation, various nuances of peer pressure, and to top it all, loneliness, hopelessness and a general feeling of lack of purpose and direction.

Body image concerns, depression and anxiety, violence, unintentional injuries, suicide and substance abuse are becoming more common amongst these individuals. On one hand, sexual assaults are increasing and on the other hand, there are risk-taking behaviours amongst adolescents with one-night stands and promiscuity. Consequently, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and illegal abortions are on the rise too. Statistics show self harm/suicide is the second common cause of death among adolescents after road traffic injury.

The first challenge is to identify whether there is a problem. Low mood and tearfulness, physical symptoms like recurrent headaches or abdominal pain, school refusal or self-harm, sleep disturbance or fatigue, irritability, moodiness and academic decline are some common symptoms.
Some pointers towards severity can be: (Ref: Hagan JF et al, AAP 2008)
· Boredom, sadness, irritability most of the time with difficulty to cope with
· Difficulty in sleeping or appetite
· Continually thinking of unpleasant experiences
· Feeling upset and wishing that life is not worth living

It would be prudent for parents to reach out to counsellors, mentors, gynaecologists or paediatricians with special interest in adolescent health. It is likely that adolescent girls and young women are seen by gynaecologists at the outset due to various other concerns at this phase of development such as period problems, weight gain, acne etc. It is also possible that they are seen for an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. It would be the responsibility of parents, teachers, mentors, and doctors to have an eye out for these symptoms. Care coordination amongst all the sectors is also of utmost importance as long term follow-up would be required in many cases.

– Associate Director and Senior Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Fortis La Femme Hospital