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She said that her son, a former honor student, has withdrawn from school.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

Who You Really Are When Alone

“Prison, I bless you!”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, noted author of “The Gulag Archipelago,” once wrote those lines while in jail, just before he won the Nobel Prize.

He was blessed in jail. In the agony, painful aloneness of imprisonment, he found God and his usableness to Him.

There is the paradox!

You can bless your problem. You can bless your wound. You can bless your loneliness.

Before my work as a psychotherapist, I felt I had wasted years. I was a troubled individual since youth. I credit my turnaround in life to my years of loneliness and self-healing.

As Dr. Calvin Miller put it, “Character itself is often the gift of aloneness.”

In the heaviness of a crisis, you can choose to like being alone. You cannot like yourself and know your gift unless you do spend time alone.

Possibly, like Solzhenitzyn, you’ll someday look back on a productive life and say, “Prison, I bless you!”

Great men and women all knew how to be alone. They knew how to celebrate who they are.

It’s small wonder that from aloneness came the Einsteins, the Gandhis, the Jobs, the Bezos, the Mandelas, the apostle Pauls of human history.

The quiet life is amazing. It’s full of treasures. It’s where you can find your depths, your confidence, direction, and self-worth.

Enduring trauma and healing from it is always lonely work. You can feel so alone. Yet paradoxically, it can profit you.

When you’re alone, that’s when you discover who you really are. And how you can be greater than ever before.

Healing the Family

She doesn’t know why she’s been severely depressed and anxious much of the time. Lita rarely socialize or get out of the house.

Lita experiences constant social anxiety when with people. In her mind, she worries that other people are silently putting her down or making fun of her.

As a result, her family hurts. The father, mother, and siblings came to me with sobs of sadness and pain about Lita’s isolation from them and others.

In the sessions, Lita recounted her family experience since childhood. She felt caught in the middle of her parents’ constant quarrels.

All that time during fights, both her father and mother vied for her support. She felt guilty for everyone’s feelings, including those of her siblings.

Virginia Satir, noted family therapist and writer, believes that a critical first step to the healing process is full or 100% awareness.

In her book, “Helping Families to Change,” she asserts the following goal for hurting families:

” … to see freely and comment openly on what you see, to be able to hear freely and comment what you hear, and to be able to touch freely and be able to comment openly on that experience – these comprise the restorative task.”

So, to heal your self and your family, here’s one master key: Stop pretending!

Based on Satir’s formula, there are skills or habits that need to be developed for total or 100% focus and awareness to avoid pretending.

3 things.

• seeing, not just looking
• hearing, not just listening
• sensing your touch

That’s what happens in my sessions in the initial phase. Progressively focus on these essential tasks.

Becoming aware – coming to your senses – is the first step to set you and your family free!

Focus on your Goal

Many years ago, Harvard psychologist Dr. Gordon Allport pointed out a secret power. It seems applicable to whatever stage of life we’re in.

Dr. Allport said that the striving for a goal beyond one’s reach is thought by numerous psychologists to be the greatest power to unify the diverse elements in a personality.

As an adolesent, the overriding goal of playing world championship chess against the Russians affected every part of Bobby Fischer’s life.

It established his priorities. What he did each day. Where he went. How much he slept. How he viewed the world and life in general.

Bobby came from a broken family. Abandoned by his father. Raised by a single mom. As it turned out, the goal of being a great American chess champion was his “beyond reach.”

His whole life was ordered by His desire to be a world chess champion. This single dominant goal unified his life during a period which could had been very fragmented.

I’m reminded of Brandon, who’s a serial womanizer and bar owner. In our therapy work, he’d push to save his family and want to indulge in his addictions. He felt split and torn.

Then, one day, he came to know Christ. He made a total commitment of his life to Him. That changed everything about him and how he lived his life from thereon.

Imperfect though he was, Brandon’s energies and abilities gradually became more focused and working together.

He now have a point of reference to unify everything about his life. His self. His family. His relationships. His business. Old values and experiences are seen by Brandon as Christ sees them.

“The staking of an overall goal compels the unity of the personality in that it draws the stream of all spiritual activity into its definite direction,” as psychologist Dr. Alfred Adler put it.

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.

Your Extended “Gifts”

While the Christmas and New Year 2017 holidays are not over yet, it’s not too late to give extended “gifts.” To our selves. To others.

Possibly this may be your “gift” per day from here onwards.

Here are some suggestions for your extended “gifts:”

• Forgive one who hurt you, including an enemy.

• Smile a little. Then a little more. Till you laugh.

• Reduce your anxiety or demands on others.

• Converse warmly together without gadgets, phone, or TV.

• Do wash the clothes for Mommy or Daddy.

• Fix coffee or breakfast for someone you care about.

• Visit your grandparents with your cheers and gifts.

• Listen.

• Find the time to fulfill a promise.

• Express appreciation.

• Ask for forgiveness when you did wrong.

• Take a walk with your child.

• Learn the art of under-reacting.

• Enter into another’s grief.

• Speak kindly to someone you don’t know.

• Be gentle and patient with an angry or depressed person.

• Support to reconcile a broken relationship.

• Give hugs to people.

How about that?

Extended “gifts” to you and others! Sincerely. Lovingly. Without expecting anything in return.

That is mental health and wholeness, isn’t it?