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She said that her son, a former honor student, has withdrawn from school.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

Doing Psychological First Aid

Do you know Red Cross? Most likely. It’s known globally to come by first administering physical First Aid to the wounded and traumatized on the spot.

Psychological First Aid resembles Red Cross Physical First Aid. Both is for emergency and prevention. Both teach on-the-spot procedures to avoid much suffering, even death.

When a person got bitten by a snake, for instance, instant Aid must be provided. It’s impossible to contact a doctor right away.

To prevent unnecessary emotional trauma leading to suicide, loved ones or friends need to know how to do basic psychological First Aid on the spot.

Then, you bring the person to a doctor or hospital for proper treatment.

The need for widespread training in on-the-scene Psychological (or emotional) First Aid is plainly evident all around us.

We see children being sexually, physically, or verbally abused by toxic parents.

We see marriages and families breaking up.

We see old people lonely, unwanted, sick, homeless.

We see the unemployed suffering severe anxiety and insecurity.

We see people in shock in disaster or war-torn areas.

We see the mentally ill in and out of institutions.

We see students or teenagers becoming disillusioned, self critical, contemplating suicide.

We see people or media “fooling our minds” every day, by misguiding, deceiving, tormenting, scaring, pampering, teasing.

The need is simply overwhelming.

Yet something can be done. During every emotional crisis or traumatic event. On the spot.

Know and learn about it … before things get too late.

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.

The Fantasy of Pornography

“What love? We just have sex,” Melanie cried during a session. Melanie, whose husband is heavily into pornography, experiences no tenderness in their marriage. Everything is done so fast. She just feels so used.

Pornography damages. Psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. It enslaves addicts in sexual activities and fantasies that destroy their personhood. Far from making a man or woman a better lover, pornography poisons relationships and sexual enjoyment.

Author Victor Cline, in his book “Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children,” wrote: “Pornography contains much scientifically inaccurate, false, and misleading information about human sexuality, especially female sexual nature and response.”

Recently, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner (who died recently) once compared himself to Jesus Christ. He said he was a “missionary” whose important achievement was “liberating people from sexual hang ups” through his worldwide pornography business.

If Hefner is right, wouldn’t the porn addicts find themselves happy, fulfilled, with a strong sense of psychological identity? If Playboy pornography aids great sex, wouldn’t you expect that married partners will have a good sense of love and real mutual pleasure in sex?

Brenda Mackillop, a former Playboy bunny, model, and prostitute, who worked with Hefner frequenting his mansion from 1973-1976, confided, “I lived the Playboy philosophy. I felt worthless and empty. Out of my despair, I attempted suicide on numerous occasions.”

Not too long ago, a patient was telling me that watching porn on the internet during bedtime puts him to sleep. He “fantasize” first before going to bed to put himself to sleep. The pornography he watches appears to alter his mood.

Psychotherapist Dr. Mark Laaser writes, “Fantasy can be addictive. It stimulates chemical reactions in the pleasure centers of the brain. The addict then uses these effects to escape other feelings, to change negative feelings to positive feelings, and even to reduce stress. Given the chemical changes it creates, sex fantasy addicts are, in reality, drug addicts.”

Evidently, pornography only produces psychopathology. It destroys self-worth, dignity, and mental health. It not only stimulates sexual coercion or predation, it encourages rape, promiscuity, and other forms of sexual addiction or sociopathy. Rather than enhancing love and great sex, pornography destroys marriages and relationships.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your entire body will be full of light; but if your eye is unsound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the very light in you is darkened, how dense is that darkness!” (Matthew 6: 22, 23)

Transcending Death

Working as a therapist, “hints” of death and its accompanying anxiety are never absent. I hardly get through my sessions without sensing a cry for help from individuals hurt by dire consequences and relationships.

It’s not private bias or indulgence on my part. It’s a universal concern we all have as human beings.

This “death anxiety” though is often invisible. A male patient in his early 40s told me about his much younger cousin who died recently of cancer. After learning it, he suddenly felt a rushing in his panic attacks.

Once while inside an airplane, everything was well when he took his seat. Then suddenly, he became so uneasy and felt, “This plane is where I am and it’s about to crash!” No amount of care from his wife or plane assistants could calm his anxiety and fear.

We have two choices to deal with “invisible death anxiety.” We either face the truth directly or we try to flee the anxious feelings and not attempt to come to terms with it. I think the latter response appears more common in modern times.

In the “Hour of Death,” author Philippe Aries writes, “Except for the death of statesmen, society has banished death. In the towns, there is no way of knowing that something has happened … Society no longer observes a pause; the disappearance of an individual no longer affects it’s continuity.”

Ernest Becker, in his “The Denial of Death,” describes the reality of the human condition. He says, “Man is a worm and food for the worms. This is the paradox; he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual … Literally split in two… He sticks out of nature with a towering majesty and yet goes back into the ground a few feet … to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and have to live with.”

Thus to make invisible our inherent death anxiety makes little sense. Our society focuses us more on the “economic” or “making a living.” Such conditions us to deny or be unprepared to dying. Yet we all need to face the reality of it to live well.

Free from the non-essentials of life or unnecessary personal disabilities. Free from “denying the problem,” “immature defenses,” “distortion of our reactions,” or projecting fears to things or persons.

Death anxiety is not beyond human control. If it’s made visible and faced head-on, it can bring much quality of life. Especially in light of our limited years. I believe the measure of a good life is how we view and transcend our own death.

How are you feeling?

Feelings and psychological wellness are closely intertwined.

Sophia began her therapy session extremely raging and throwing tantrums at her husband, Tim. When I asked about the nature of her rage and upset, she reported her husband’s infidelity and sexual addiction. The cause was reasonable, of course.

But we decided to work on Sophia’s out of control emotions first because it was unhealthy, and causing her inability to function and cope with the stress needed to appropriately move forward with her husband.

Observe clearly the difference between “healthy negative feelings” and “unhealthy negative feelings.” Healthy negative feelings are those of sorrow, regret, sadness, annoyance, or disappointment when you don’t get what’s important to you.

Unhealthy negative feelings, on the other hand, make you feel unduly depressed, panicky, self-pitying, angry, or even violent.

Realize that you are capable of changing your “unhealthy negative feelings” into “healthy negative feelings.” In my therapy and counseling sessions, I work with counselees to take their depressed feelings, for example, until they only feel sorry and regretful.

I encourage them to take their panicky, self-downing feelings into the session until they only feel concerned and apprehensive.

Don’t give up until you actually change your feelings into healthy ones. It’s a key to pressing on in your overall recovery.

The Story of Martha

Life is a temporary assignment. Many of us tend to crave things. We long for more and thirst for something better.

If only I have millions in the bank … if only I’d married the right person … if only I completed my degree … if only I was born in a different family … if only I have good connections. The list is endless.

Then sooner or later, with all our endless cravings, we find ourselves feeling empty. We catch existential angst. Confused, we don’t experience lasting satisfaction in anything, anywhere. We wonder where the time has flown.

A young single woman I’d call Martha saw me once in deep distress. She’s into daily prescription drugs due to her anxiety panic attacks. She described her self a “workaholic.” According to her, she craves for a lot of things that she wants to possess, such as jewelry, cars, condos, and foreign travels. She hates not working. If idle, she feels panic.

Once Martha had casual sex with a man who picked her up in a coffee shop. She craved and loved the attention. She gave her self and body to the stranger with all gusto. She liked the excitement. In the session, she remarked, “But after, I never thought it would be so quick.” Then she admitted it made her feel bad about her self and other areas of her life.

One of life’s greatest deceptions is we need to crave to own something, crave to be with someone, or crave to do something, before we can feel happy. Our agenda is filled with temporal goals. Have you ever thought that life is more than these transient things we endlessly crave for?

Think about it. There is an ultimate answer to make us live life to the fullest. Know the secret of what lasts.