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She said that her son, a former honor student, has withdrawn from school.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

Are you a perfectionist?

Perfectionism is a mental dysfunction. In psychology, it’s referred to as a personality trait hyperfocused on flawlessness and perfect performances.

A young patient, Dina, was a scholar in the university. Her life has been an endless report card on grades, accomplishments, and looks.

One evening, Dina was rushed to the hospital by her father. Her sister found her slumped on the floor of her room with bloody cuts on the wrists.

She tried to end it all. That time, she could no longer keep up with her grades due to severe social anxiety.

What makes perfectionism toxic is its negativity. It’s overly anxious on avoiding failure, mistakes, and messes … an impossibility in reality.

Even if you express love to a perfectionist after some misses, it isn’t enough comfort. The perfectionist is way too dependent or conditional on performance to feel loved.

Psychology Today magazine explains,

“There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. The need for perfection is transmitted in small ways from parents to children, some as silent as a raised eyebrow over a B rather than an A.”

If you’re struggling with perfectionism, remember that “you are good enough.” You are worthy as you are because you exist.

You don’t have to prove your value to anyone, even to yourself. God has already placed that value on you and your life.

“Perfection is an illusion. Yet perfectionists demand it from others while being far from flawless themselves. The margin of error of the human condition is often our greatest area of excellence and discovery,” reminds writer Stewart Stafford.

Martha’s Intimacy

I wondered how Martha managed to find a fiancée if she evidenced such low self esteem and recurring depressive episodes. She’s even suicidal.

In-session, Martha’s self esteem was manifested always to an extreme to be based on what she thinks others think of her.

Constantly, she felt uncertain, helpless, and frightened on the inside. She disguised her low self esteem by efforts to impress others.

Despite her fears, Martha risked a romantic relationship. Eventually, she became “in love” and entered a “survival pact” with her boyfriend.

The trouble was, when she chose a mate, that Martha did not communicate her fears to her partner. She feared that her partner would not love her if she knew about her feelings of worthlessness.

Martha’s partner saw her as confident and strong. Yet she expressed misery about it. She privately expected and felt she must be what he thought about her.

In effect, Martha had actually put the other person in charge of her self esteem.

Therapist and author Virginia Satir writes,

“I have talked about choosing rather than acting from compulsion. When you feel that you have to live according to someone else’s direction or live so that you never disappoint or hurt anybody, then your life is a continual assessment of whether or not you please other people.”

In the context of intimate relationships, Satir further explains, if one has or both partners have low self esteem, each behaves as if he/she were saying …

“I am nothing. I will live for you.”

“I am nothing. So please live for me.”

With this unprocessed, will a relationship survive? Is it realistic? Can it be functional?

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!

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?

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.

Christina

Christina, one of my patients, recalls how her mother would leave her working and sleeping with the maids. Away from the rest of her siblings in the house.

“The more I tried to please my mother, the more she’d put me down. All throughout my childhood, I wondered about this: I felt like an ‘insect’ rather than my mother’s child,” laments Christina.

Christina is a 50-year-old adult now. A wife and mother of 3 grown up boys. But she still feels like an “insect.”

Although she looks naturally pretty, she rarely appreciates what people say about her. Mostly she hardly looks people in the eyes.

Somehow, Christina figures that she is that way always. Her life today is safe and comfortable, but it’s barren and emotional destitute.

The “inner child” contains memories, images, and feelings of your childhood. Both conscious and unconscious. What is consciously remembered and what’s repressed or forgotten.

When a child is abused, traumatized, or deprived, the “inner child” splits from consciousness when being abused. But it carries repressed anger, rage, hurt and fear.

As you grew into adulthood, the repression from childhood and “splits” from consciousness remain. Even now, as an adult, you still have inside you the child you once were – your wounded inner child.

Healing the wounded inner child involves telling the story in therapy. Why is telling the story important?

Dr. Charles Whitfield eloquently explains,

“We begin to see the connections between what we are doing and what happened to us when we were little. As we share our story, we begin to break free of being a victim or a martyr, of the repetition compulsion.”