By Annalise Bassett
Bagpiper: How are mental and physical health connected?
Amanda Hurd: “These two are deeply connected as they impact and influence one another. A person who is physically healthy is more likely to be mentally healthy, and vice versa. Mental health plays a significant role in how one functions and maintains their lifestyle, especially on a physical level. For example, a client suffering from depression may experience decreased pleasure in once pleasurable activities and withdraw from them. This same person may also sleep too much or not enough, have reduced energy levels, overeat/undereat, as well as gain or lose weight. These depressive symptoms can bring an increased risk for physical health problems. In some cases, a person’s physical health decline may be the first sign of a mental health problem. Being physically unhealthy can also contribute to a decline in mental health with symptoms such as low self esteem, depressed mood, and panic attacks. In addition, research shows us those suffering from chronic illnesses are at increased risk of developing mental health disorders.”
BP: How can school impact a teenager’s mental health?
AH: “Attending school can both positively and negatively influence a teenager’s mental health. Factors such as having too heavy of a workload, short deadlines, social difficulties (low self esteem, social anxiety), not meeting expectations of teachers/parents/themselves, etc can all negatively impact a student’s mental health. On the other hand, it can also positively influence a teen’s mental health by providing support and fulfillment for one’s educational goals, create an environment for the development of quality friendships/relationships, and positively impact one’s self esteem/self confidence as they succeed through the years.”
BP: What can schools do to help anxious and depressed students?
AH: “Assist them in finding an attainable, customizable balance. What works for one doesn’t always work for another. Schools can support students by checking in with them, praising them, being the consistent positive in their day. If the school has concerns, potentially make a referral for therapy services, if services are available, and/or speak to their parents about their concerns. See question 4 also for parental recommendations, schools can create an open line of communication as well, where students can speak freely and be heard.”
BP: How can parents help their kids cope with mental disorders such as anxiety and depression while pushing them to do school work and get good grades?
AH: “I often tell parents of my teenage clients to create an open line of communication with their teens and listen, listen, listen. Validate their feelings and try to work together on solutions, whether that be something they do in the home and/or with the help of a therapist. I also recommend parents to establish healthy boundaries and set attainable expectations for success of their child. Then, revisit these boundaries and expectations after a few months to see what is working, what is not, and what may need to be adjusted. Everyone gets a voice in these situations and comprises should be expected. Overall, setting up an environment where teens are comfortable, able to speak freely, AND be heard are crucial steps to finding solutions that work for the teen and the parents. I would recommend parents with anxious teens to read the book ‘Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children’. This book explains how anxiety is a normal part of life and the role parents can take to assist their kids in responding to their worries versus running from them.”
BP: What is the balance that teenagers and their parents and teachers should find between hard work and helping themselves with anxiety and depression?
AH: “I’m unsure how to answer this one. I will say checking in with those in your support group, and checking in with yourself are helpful ways to see how things are going, what should be added, removed, or adjusted in one’s life to maintain balance. Give yourself room for errors and celebrate accomplishments.”
BP: What do you think are the major causes of such a spike in teenage anxiety and depression?
AH: “Technology; social media and cyberbullying come to mind first. Social media creates a false sense of the ‘perfect’ lives of others and can set unattainable goals. Research has shown an increase in anxiety and depression from exposure to social media and I have worked with clients in my office who have reported an increase in their mood after eliminating some of the stressors of social media, or closing their accounts altogether. Is this the case for all students? No, but this has been my experience with some clients. Cyberbullying is widely talked about for its detrimental effects on teens. It can lead to anxiety, depression, or even suicide. With a high percentage of teens using cell phones and the internet daily, chances also increase of being a victim of cyberbullying.”
BP: Do you think that society as a whole downplays the importance of mental health? Why or why not?
AH: “I think the idea of the importance of mental health is improving with each decade and is being given increased attention, unfortunately, with acts of violence being shown through the media in our country. I don’t think society necessarily downplays the importance of it, I’m not sure if society knows what to do with it at times.”
BP: Is there anything else my readers need to know?
AH: “Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health disorders in the United States and both are treatable. Feeling anxious or sad are normal emotions and a normal part of life. When these emotions linger, worsen, and/or reduce one’s satisfaction of life, that is when they become abnormal, and additional support may be needed. Learning how to recognize and cope with these emotions can significantly impact one’s quality and satisfaction with life. I never want your readers to feel reluctant to ask someone for help if their normal emotions become abnormal. Help is always available. Always.”