New Mental Health Crisis of Teenagers

Just awhile ago, a distressed mother texted me.

It’s about her 17-year-old son whom she brought to see me for therapy.

She said that her son, a former honor student, has withdrawn from school.

He is now spending countless hours just watching YouTube videos daily at home.

CNN 2018 edition reported on “Smartphones: New Teen Mental Health Crisis.”

It’s based on a recent study published by the American Medical Association.

It investigated the link between digital addiction and the mental health of thousands of teenagers.

The study found a “statistically significant association.”

Teenagers who are heavily addicted to digital devices are more likely to become prone to psychiatric problems, according to the study.

The researchers examined mental consequences of digital diversions.

These include social media, streaming video, text messaging, music downloads, and online chat rooms.

Teens with digital addiction showed psychopathology symptoms.

Among symptoms identified are brain ADHD or patterns of severe inattention, hyperactive behavior, and impulsiveness that interferes with functioning or development.

Treatment options include:

• psychotherapy involving cognitions, emotions, and behaviors;
• parental boundaries and discipline
• home logistical tech arrangement
• medications or natural brain foods;
• play or arts;
• school accommodations;
• spirituality;
• peer groups

The High Price of Doing Nothing

People need therapy. Especially in severe, destructive, or unmanageable situations.

In fact, each one of us needs it for lifetime personal wholeness. No one is exempted from growing.

We all want to be happy. We strive to reach our goals. Our desire is to worry or stress less. We want peace of mind.

It’s one reality about the human condition that doesn’t change. Yet, for some reasons, many tend to resist therapy.

We can be fine spending thousands on gadgets, clothes, dinners, or travels. But still, many find themselves hesitant to spend on therapy … on “self-investment.”

Joseph and Carol were fighting in big ways. And have been ever since. He was smart and outspoken. As for Carol, she’s no longer caring to Joseph, but materialistic and know-it-all.

“You mean, we just talk. How long?” Carol asked asked during their marital session. She simply wanted to know how quick the process will be.

They never returned to continue their therapy. About a year after, I received a text message from Carol. Her husband had become an alcoholic and been having sex with his secretary.

There is no quick fix in mental and emotional healing. The cost of doing nothing is heavy and long-lasting.

“Men are disturbed not by things but by the view they take of them,” said the ancient philosopher Epictetus. His implication is that our feelings are caused by our thoughts.

When you think of Therapy as “quick fix,” frivolous, or a waste of time and money, you’re not seeing life as it really is. You’re not fully aware of your thoughts and how it harms your reality.

Life, as in therapy, requires us to show up. We “do work” developmentally over a period of time – over months or years. There is no magic, miracle, or overnight cure.

Consider the high price of doing nothing.

Where will you be a year, 2 years or 5 years from now, with the same old wounds and patterns stealing your happiness now? What’s the cost of inaction or remaining stuck?

Clinical and anecdotal evidences show that the “costs” are really high. Much higher – financially, relationally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – than temporary therapy processes.

What is your health “worth” to you? Can you put a price on your life?

In the Midst of Life, We Are in Death

Life is temporary. It has expiry. Each breath, each heartbeat, brings us closer to inevitable end. The naked truth is, we’re all dying from the moment we were born.

Philosopher Betrand Russell, when he was in his 90s, lamented the ways in which most people waste their lives, as if they’ll live forever.

In my work as a psychotherapist, death is a constant enemy. Whether young or old, I deal with death issues every session.

Like life, my sessions are timed to the limit. There is expiration hour. So often, I listen to people utterly “dying” – depressing, denying, making excuses, wasting precious time, hiding.

As I watch the minutes tick by, I wonder about life-and-death issues. Will they do or get or not what they want most in life?

Whatever the age, becoming aware of impending death as soon as possible is very helpful. It avoids wasting time on things that don’t really matter.

Of course, this is especially true among older people. With the limited time left on earth. The proximity of death. How randomly any of them could vanish into earth!

We can ask ourselves directly a few questions to help us process this reality more deeply.

• Although I may struggle, what will make my days worth living to the fullest?

• How could the quality of my life be improved?

• What do I consider the most important to achieve given the limited time I have left?

• What may be my greatest regrets if I die before I get the chance to complete what’s truly important to me?

A little carving along the road says, “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

That puts things in perspective about what really matters in this life … while we still have the time and can ask ourselves questions.

Courage Heals

Courage was a big thing for Mother Teresa. She said, “To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.”

It’s essential to the meaningful attainments she made in her life –serving as a missionary against “injustice among the poor” in India.

Wounded souls. That’s how we may describe the inner state of individuals after suffering injustices in their personal lives and relationships.

Standing up to these personal injustices and wounds requires courage. Overcoming fear in order to heal. In order to be able to do what gives life.

For years, Maria, a 16-year-old high school girl, received abusive, name-calling text messages. She was pushed around at school. She avoided places in her school in fear for her safety.

Finally, she broke down. She could no longer bring herself to continue attending classes. Her grades dropped. She suffered from panic anxiety attacks, lack of sleep, and stress headaches.

Her mother brought her to me. She lamented, “My daughter has become emotionally crippled. It takes all my energy to get her out of the car and ‘go over there.’ ”

To get well, Maria needs a healthy dose of courage. Against injustices and its perpetrators.

It’s not for her own good that she allows her self to be humiliated and shamed in school. To do so only harms her psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“Be men of courage; be strong,” the Bible says (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Courage matters.

It helps us correct injustices and wrongs. It gives us power over risk and its associated fears. It leads us to be better persons, spouses, parents, children, friends and citizens.

Labels Don’t Define You

Diagnostic labels are typical. You enter a hospital, consult a doctor, and take lab tests. Then, you’re given a Label of your condition.

In psychological care or mental health, labels abound. They emanate mostly from DSM. It’s a doctor’s guide on mental health disorders used by MHP (mental health practitioners) around the world.

Yesterday, I was reading a psychological report on Marino, a teenage client. It’s issued by a registered drug-based professional mental health agency based in Manila.

In the report I found lots of familiar DSM labels. Depression. Agoraphobia. Social anxiety. Depersonalization Disorder. Schizophrenia.

As usual, aside from the labels, the agency required the client to take brain drugs. When the drugs manifested serious side effects on the teen client, his mother chose to stop it.

When the mother reported about it to the agency, she was simply told to comply. Without drugs, they said, no psychotherapy will be allowed for his son.

Labels and the pharmaceutical industry usually go together in psychiatry. Describing who you are as “depressive” or “BPD” or “schizoid” is an attitude often encouraged by the big pharma.

In my initial session with Marino, I’d noticed how much the “labels” given him have already affected his sense of himself. Mostly in our talks, he spoke of who he is as the “labels,” the sickness.

Sadly, in my observation, Marino has come to see himself as inherently dysfunctional. A major part of it was the result of the way he was labeled and boxed in.

Framing one’s identity around some drug-based label is dangerous. It harms one’s overall health. Worse, it can destroy even the core of one’s self identity.

You are more than any diagnostic “label.” You are a person, not an object. The label is just a temporary state or external behavior. It does not exclusively define you.

Transcending “labels” means looking at life beyond them. Labels can be useful in a way. But they can also shape your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Be careful then. Discern differences. Labels stick, but they can also be unwrapped. You and any label are two different things.

Most importantly, you can be stronger than the “label.”

Living Your Life Again

We live in a fast-paced age. The world is a smaller place because of technology, internet, and airplanes through our skies.

This advancement has lots of pluses. The speed, the technology, helps. Speaking for myself, I can conduct sessions anywhere I am to attend to those from varied places or nations.

Yet despite the advancement to make life easier, people still feel uneasy. You can see the tension: in their faces, voices, hands, bodies. The way they live.

Now, why is this happening? Well, you proceed to the source of the problem: your mind. Keep your mind alive now. Your imagination.

Do you see a frown of anxiety on the face of your mind? Are your teeth gritting? Your jaw stiffening? Now, in your mind, smile. Choose to shift to a face with joy.

Let me tell you about a man. He won out over his wounds and tensions.

He had undergone a severe family and marital trauma. Abandoned, deprived. He was no youngster. He was already in his 60s, a senior citizen.

What to do with his life and time in which he lived empty, depressed, and tense?

He decided it was moment for action. He had to bring life back into his life. He had to do it in simple, realistic ways.

Well, what could a man his age do?

First, he became a life coach to couples, families, and other adults. He was a wise, talented, and friendly guy. It suited his personality. Soon he had substantial clientele and been earning well.

Second, you see him volunteering as a toddler caregiver in a church’s Sunday kids’ school. Spending time with children brought him much joy. It makes him feel more alive.

And lastly but not the least, he found peace leading bible studies and joining periodic mission trips through his church. His life leads to more life.

In his 60s, abandoning the passive concepts of retirement, he found healing for his wounds. He used his mind and work to get active. Live life again.

Maria

At the time I started to see her, Maria had been in therapy for few months. She saw me for she felt stuck from a previous therapist. She reported that her therapy was not moving anywhere.

When Maria was born, her father and mother looked to her for the fulfillment of their damaged dreams. They pushed her to activities they felt incapable of doing.

Growing up, Maria felt that her parents owned her by the way they spoke to and treated her. When she refused what they wanted her to do, they’d call her demeaning names.

Under such circumstances, Maria developed a shame-prone “core identity.” She felt bad because of disastrous consequences of asserting her individuality, own thoughts and feelings.

Toxic parents are shaming. They treat children as possessions. Not persons, but extensions of themselves.

When children develop their separate and unique identity, they’re seen as a threat by their shaming parents to their personal needs.

The result is, children are not moulded to feel valued as a person. In the shaming process of being treated as a possession rather than a person, wrong behavior and self are the same.

This is the reason why unhealed people who are shame-based end up spreading the shaming process in relationship with others.

Without therapy or intervention, the cycle perpetuates itself all the time. Affirming the mental template of badness – a possession rather than a person.