Teen Mental Illness

Mental illness has been prevalent over the years and has been misunderstood especially in our African communities and as a result of this its causes has been attributed to a lot of things.

There are different types of mental illnesses however our focus will be primarily on depression and eating disorders which are common but not exclusive to the youth. Depression ranges in severity with the most severe being Bipolar which is characterised by episodes of severe mood swings.

The moods are that of elation where one would consider themselves a super hero and this is called delusions of grandeur and in the lower of depressed state they might be in a catatonic stupor where they assume the position of a rock for days, the milder form is called clinical depression where the school work sometimes sloppiness, deterioration in marks.

There is a myriad of causes of depression, such as trauma for example, a teenager surviving rape, and when they are rejected by their peers. With social media being the primary form of socialisation for most, the virtual world presents expectations on teenagers which can sometimes be unrealistic. Success is shown as something that can be easily gained and if these are not met it is easy for teenagers to fall into a state of depression.

Divorce can also be another cause of depression where teenagers tend to blame themselves for being the cause of their parents’ separation and sometimes fail to and are forced by parents to choose. Sometimes teenagers can have personalities that are prone to depression and these often have a low self-esteem and are overly self-critical.

The other types of mental illness manifests themselves through eating disorders such as Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa, bulimia which is characterised by episodes of excessive binging followed by regurgitation or even using laxatives, they try to control their weight by controlling the amount of food they eat, they may also have cuts in their hands caused by their fingers scraping against their teeth.

 Anorexia on the other hand is characterised by abnormally low body weight and intense fear of gaining weight, they can appear to be emaciated but they would see themselves as fat and undesirable. Beauty which is based Eurocentric standards is often unrealistic and marginalises some teens who are made to feel as though they do not belong, things such as cyber bullying and body shaming have also contributed to how teenagers especially girls perceive themselves. Constant words of encouragement should be used by parents to encourage a positive self-image.

Over the years African cultures have played a pivotal role in enforcing identity roles initiation schools, young boys and girls where taught on how to carry themselves and this gave them a sense of purpose albeit these roles were further reinforced by parents. Schools as secondary socialising agents through subjects such as Life Orientation have helped in teaching learners on the subject of identity and they partner with NGOs such as the (SAFMH) South African Federation for Mental Health.

There are also Educational Psychologists who are based at the district, working with various schools in different areas. In this instance, there is a streamlined process where learners requiring help, are identified and referred to the allocated psychologist who will in turn if necessitate placing these learners in a school catering for such needs.

Lorraine Moremi Soweto Sunrise News

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