“I hated high school. I don’t trust anybody who looks back on the years from 14 to 18 with any enjoyment. If you liked being a teenager, there’s something wrong with you.” ― Stephen King
The teenage years are tumultuous to say the least. It can be easy to forget how miserable and self- doubting the teenage self can be, as a wave of drastic change and hormones sweeps over your developing mind and body. With this uncertainty comes a predictable amount of moodiness, fluctuations in confidence, and conflict with parents.
Sometimes however, these common teenage symptoms go beyond what is normal for this life stage. When depression manifests itself in teenagers it can often be attributed to hormones etc. when it is in fact a real and pervasive psychological problem. Conversely, some parents may mistake their teens natural growing-up stage for depression when it is completely harmless.
An Underestimated Problem
The important thing to note is that undetected depression in the early years can have lifelong consequences. The average age of depression onset in lifelong sufferers is 14 years old, so those that experience lifelong depressive episodes will most likely start as teens.
The Association for Young People’s Health report that the number of young people aged 15- 16 with depression has almost doubled between the 1980s and now. They also estimate that 1 in 10 young people suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. These are statistics that are replicable in most developed countries around the world.
Untreated depression in the early years can lead to eating disorders, academic difficulties, and substance abuse. There is no shame in seeking the help of mental health experts and, in fact, early positive experiences with these services can set your child up for a lifetime of positive mental health.
So how do you tell when your teenager is suffering from depression and needs a little help? Listed below are some common signs of teenage depression. Although many of these occur during the teenage years, the presence of most or all of them over the space of several weeks indicates your teen may have depression.
Please bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive, but merely a guide to identifying when your teen may have a problem. In order to be diagnosed the help of a trained mental health professional is required.
Signs to Look Out For
Mood: This is one of the hardest ones to disentangle, but if your child is consistently sad, cranky, and irritable then you may need to explore why this is so pervasive. This, combined with a belief that life is meaningless is a warning sign for depression.
Appetite: If your teen is eating a lot more or a lot less than usual and has experienced significant weight loss/ gain then this may be a depressive symptom. It is common for weight to fluctuate during adolescence but if this is combined with several of the other symptoms listed here then it may be a warning sign.
Loss of interest: Sometimes teens move away from things they used to enjoy as children. This is perfectly normal, but if your teen completely withdraws from things they truly love such as a particular sport, instrument or even friends then this is not to be ignored. A loss of interest in enjoyable pursuits is particularly worrying as the lack of activity and fun will only exacerbate any pre-existing depression.
Sleep: An excessive amount of sleep is not normal, nor are highly irregular sleeping patterns. Parents should look out for ongoing fatigue and/ or exhaustion.
Physical complaints: If your child regularly reports headaches, nausea and other without any seeming explanation or cause then this may be a sign of deeper issues.
School performance: A sudden worsening in school performance, frequent absences and seeming disinterest in school life may hint at depression.
Difficulty concentrating: Difficulty concentrating at home and at school should be taken note if. Your child may seem restless or agitated and be unable to relax.
Tearfulness: Teens who become easily tearful or cry frequently may be experiencing deeper unhappiness.
What to Do if You Think Your Child May Have Depression?
Again, this list should not be used to diagnose your child but should merely be used as a guide if you already have concerns. Most of these behaviours will be evident at some stage or another throughout the teenage years. If however, these behaviours are ongoing and pervasive then you should consider your options.
Parents of depressed teenagers should do their best to listen to their teenagers concerns. Try to schedule some time to really listen to how they are feeling. Do not judge or lecture as tempting as this can be. Statements such as “when I was a teen” or “you’ll grow out of it” are not helpful.
Structure and self- care are extremely important when it comes to alleviating depression. Encourage your child to get enough sleep and make sure they are getting the nutrients they need. Simple things like these can make a difference.
Whether as a teenager or an adult it is vital to talk through your depression. There are many mental health experts who are trained to work with depressed teens. Most schools have a counsellor or psychologist and there are a range of valuable community services.
Don’t feel as though “fixing” depression is your parenting duty. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, get in touch with these services and ensure that the correct support they need is obtained.
Sometimes the best example to set is that it is okay to ask for help!
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Machoian, L. (2006). The disappearing girl: Learning the language of teenage depression. Penguin.
Mental Health Foundation (2006). Truth hurts: report of the National Inquiry into self-harm among young people. London: Mental Health Foundation
Oster, G. D., & Montgomery, S. S. (1995). Helping your depressed teenager: A guide for parents and caregivers. John Wiley.
It is old news that dysfunctional or insecure relationships in childhood may lead to difficulties down the line. Whilst this has long been known, a recent study has shed further light on the reasons for this, and the specific effects poor attachments may have.
Attachments are the relationships we have with caregivers from an early age. In general, attachment styles may be divided into four categories: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. The type of attachment style we develop is directly linked to the quality of care we receive. For example, a neglectful parent may contribute to their child’s dismissive- avoidant attachment style (Cassidy, 1999).
Insecure attachment styles have been linked to range of adult mental health issues. These range from anxiety and depression to relationship issues and even health problems. Obviously attachment styles are an important research area, but why does the human brain react so negatively to poor parenting?
The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that insecure childhood attachments can negatively influence our ability to deal with stress as adults (Leyh, 2016). We are all aware that there is huge variability in how individuals deal with stress. This is evident in any office in the world! Some people remain calm and proactive in the face of adversity, whilst some crumble and become extremely negative.
One of the reasons for this, according to Dr. Rainer Leyh and his team, is that our negative childhood experiences and attachment styles stay with us throughout adulthood, and rear their heads when we are faced with a stressful or anxiety provoking scenario.
In this report on the study, Dr Christine Heinsich gives the example of a car approaching a traffic light. For the driver, when they are in a neutral state, following the signal is easy and may even come automatically. For an emotional driver however, following the signal is much more difficult. They may stop late or fail to stop altogether, driving straight through the light.
What moderates our ability to stay calm under emotional strain? For those of us that had emotionally attentive parents or caregivers it can be a lot easier. The key term is “emotional regulation”. Emotional Regulation is our ability to control our emotions, and our reactions and subsequent behaviours in response to them. Attachment styles have been directly linked to emotional regulation.
In the aforementioned study, adults were recruited who had a wide range of childhood parental/ caregiver experiences. Participants were asked to perform a task which involved identifying a target letter from a series of flashing letters. The task was conducted in different conditions, some which evoked a positive emotional response, some which evoked a negative response and others which evoked neutral. The participants’ brain activity was recorded using a type of brain scanning called “EEG”.
Subjects with insecure childhood attachments had significantly more trouble performing under the negative conditions than those with secure childhood attachments. Another interesting finding was that those with insecure attachments also exhibited lower brain activity under negative conditions when attempting to identify the target letter.
The poorer the task performance, the poorer the strategies for emotional regulation. One theory put forth by the researchers, is that the more effort you have to exert on inhibiting your emotion, the less resources you have to perform on the task. Therefore, negative childhood experiences may make all those day- to- day struggles we encounter just that little bit more difficult.
Were there any potential limitations to this study? It could be argued that as the target letters were unrelated to the emotional cures, it is difficult to generalise them to everyday life. Future studies will have to find a way to make the testing environment more realistic.
Despite this, it does see clear that poor relationships with our caregivers can have long- lasting consequences.
How do I know if I have difficulties with attachment and/ or emotional regulation?
It can be difficult to know whether any of this applies to you. You may have difficulties with emotional regulation if:
Implications for relationships
Those who are negatively attached may bring these issues and insecurities into relationships. Attachment style can have massive connotations, particularly for romantic relationships, and it is important to be aware of how it can affect you.
It is easy to see the connection between a turbulent relationship, and the findings of the study we have just discussed. Being resilient and calm when faced with stressful situations, arguments and all that comes with a relationship, is often central to its success. For those with poor emotional regulation, this can be difficult.
What can you do about insecure attachment?
New research is increasingly shedding light on how our past experiences can shape our present and future. It is fascinating what we area learning, but also important to stress that your past does not necessarily dictate your future, and we all have the ability to change long- learned behaviours.
By Dr. Syras Derksen,
Cassidy, J. (1999). Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Rough Guides.
Leyh, R., Heinisch, C., Kungl, M. T., & Spangler, G. (2016). Attachment representation moderates the influence of emotional context on information processing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 278.
In our increasingly digital age, addiction to internet use is growing in prevalence, and has recently received more and more attention from medical and scientific researchers. Nowhere is the problem more alarming than with adolescents, who have the greatest access to internet-based technologies, and also have the most at stake developmentally.
Some rather sensationalized news sources have even referred to the rise of internet addiction as a new “electric heroin,” citing the research demonstrating how internet use and serious substance abuse demonstrate similarities in their symptomologies and in the way that they stimulate the reward pathways of the brain.
While the danger and addictive potential of heroin use makes the comparison a little strained, excessive internet use is nonetheless a condition that merits serious attention.
The History Of Internet Addiction
The possibility for addictive behavior related to internet use was first proposed in 1995. The term was initially used in jest, because at the time the rarity of personal computers and the unlikelihood of any individual developing an addiction to internet use made the idea ridiculous.
In the ensuing years, however, the explosion of internet technologies rapidly made internet addiction a reality. By 1998 a diagnostic tool known as the Internet Addiction Tool (IAT) was developed by Dr. Kimberly Young in order to assess whether an individual’s internet use was pathological.
The assessment was based on the criteria for pathological gambling listed in the DSM-IV (the American Psychological Association’s diagnostic manual for mental disorders). This was based on the logic that despite the fact that internet addiction had not yet been recognized by the psychological establishment as a real disorder, the symptoms it presented were similar enough to gambling addiction that the two could be diagnosed in a comparable fashion. When the DSM-V was released in 2013, pathological gambling was updated to a condition now called “gambling disorder,” but problem internet use was once again left out.
Notwithstanding, psychological and medical researchers across the world have begun devoting major resources towards studying the effects of internet use, especially on school age populations ranging from ages 5-22. This field of research has been especially active in Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan; countries in which the vast majority of the population have access to the internet and incidence of internet addiction is especially high. Recent studies have found that an estimated 19.8% of adolescents in Taiwan and 20% of adolescents in Korea screened positive for either internet addiction or excessive internet use.
The Diverse Manifestations of Excessive Internet Use
Internet Addiction has been grossly understudied, and additional research is required to establish prevalence rates in European and North American countries. The various diagnostic tools currently available are often times outdated, and assess patterns of internet use that are no longer relevant. Future research is needed to validate measuring tools that more accurately reflect the actual patterns of internet use in today’s adolescents.
In the 1990s, the internet functions available to the average user were so limited that one of the only possible types of pathological use was compulsively checking websites, in a pattern that closely mirrored compulsive gambling. However, today’s adolescents use the internet for so many different things that, depending on their pattern of use, the internet can either enable or catalyze a host of different disordered patterns of thinking.
For example, online gaming can be associated with the impulsivity often marked in cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Adolescents with a bent towards narcissistic personality disorder might gravitate towards excessive self-promotion on networking outlets like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. The constant stream of world news and cultural information present on social media websites can enable a crippling fear of missing out (or “FOMO”) that might co-occur with an anxiety disorder. And the internet also provides opportunities for the destructive cyber-bullying perpetuated by over-aggressive adolescents.
Of course it is impossible to determine if the disordered or problematic patterns of thinking listed above are caused by internet use or if the internet use simply enables preexisting pathological tendencies to manifest. It is also possible that there is a reciprocal relationship, with excessive internet use both fostering and enabling the expression of negative behavior patterns.
Diagnosis and Understanding
While this diversity of the symptomology of internet addiction makes it difficult to issue blanket statements, the important thing is to have the discernment to distinguish between frequent internet use and the excessive patterns of use that can lead to addiction.
Internet use should not be judged to be excessive until several of the following criteria are met (among others): impaired psychological well-being; worsened academic performance; physical abnormalities including back pain, eye strain or carpal tunnel syndrome; severely decreased family and peer interactions; and finally the traditional markers of addiction, including increased tolerance, signs of withdrawal after lack of use, disregard for consequences, and difficulty controlling behavior.
While discussions of internet addiction can often alarm parents who may believe that their child spends too much time online, it’s important not to jump to conclusions nor to inhibit overall internet use wholesale. Internet use is not per se harmful or inhibiting; in fact, there is a mountain of evidence that adolescents with regular internet access generally have higher test scores, a greater motivation to learn, greater access to health information, and a general feeling of empowerment compared to adolescents without internet access.
As was noted above, there are many diverse uses for internet technologies, and each has the potential to enable various different disordered patterns of thinking. What is required in such a complex situation is a sensitivity to the overall developmental context of an adolescent’s physical, emotional, and social situation.
While internet addiction has recently been given increasing attention by mental health professionals and should be taken seriously, parents of adolescents should not jump to conclusions. Using the criteria listed above, in addition to outside research and, if necessary, consultation with a certified health professional, parents of adolescents can be more secure in their ability to discern between the excessive internet use that marks internet addiction and the frequent internet use that marks 21st century adolescence.
By Dr. Syras Derksen,
Guan, S. S. A., & Subrahmanyam, K. (2009). Youth Internet Use: Risks and opportunities. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 22(4), 351-356.
Ong, S. H., & Tan, Y. R. (2014). Internet Addiction in Young People. Annals of Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 43(7), 378-382.
Tao, R., Huang, X., Wang, J., Zhang, H., Zhang, Y., & Li, M. (2010). Proposed Diagnostic Criteria for Internet Addiction. Addiction, 105(3), 556-564.
Wallace, P. (2014). Internet Addiction Disorder and Youth. EMBO Reports, 15(1), 12-16.
To many of us, childhood seems like a carefree time with few of the worries or concerns of adult life. While childhood is certainly a magical time, and one that we hope is filled with happiness and excitement for children, it can also carry some hidden stresses.
School, peer-relations, and the process of growing up can sometimes become a little overwhelming for kids. Particularly in the modern era where there is more pressure than ever in terms of image and popularity.
Experiencing stress is a normal part of life and something we can’t hide our kids from forever. We can, however, encourage them to manage it in a healthy way and catch unhealthy coping mechanisms before they become habit.
Six Simple Steps to Help Kids Manage Stress
1. Don’t encourage avoidant behaviour
Often, if we are finding something difficult or stressful, we have an innate urge to avoid it. This can lead to a vicious cycle as the issue grows increasingly stressful in our minds when we do not face up to it. For example, if your child is stressed about a math exam and plays sick to avoid it, they will be even more nervous before the next exam.
The body usually adapts to normal functioning levels within 20-25 minutes of being within a stressful situation. Teach your child that by facing their fears head on they can learn to master them. When they do, make sure to reward them and provide positive feedback.
2. Schedule some down-time
Between school, sports activities, and dealing with siblings, children can be just as tired as you are! As a role model, it’s vital to show your children the importance of building some fun and relaxation into the week, in order to maintain a happy and balanced life.
This may take the form of a fun activity such as swimming, a picnic in the woods or even playing a silly imaginary game! Make sure whatever this activity is that your child is not competing or under any pressure; just simply enjoying it!
3. Get enough sleep
When the going gets tough, it can be made a whole lot worse by exhaustion. Children need 10-12 hours sleep per night depending on their age. Without the necessary shut-eye kids can underperform in school and develop behavioural issues. This leads to a cycle of stress for everyone involved!
Get into the habit of a nightly pre-bed routine, lasting approximately 40 minutes. This will involve everything from brushing teeth to a bedtime story and commence at the same time each night. Doing so tells the body it is time to relax and prepare itself for sleep. It also gives your children good sleep hygiene practice which they will carry with them into their teens.
4. Encourage openness and honesty
Sometimes things become a little overwhelming. We’ve all had those days where work has really gotten us down or some glitch in the day has our minds working in overdrive. It helps to be able to talk to friends and families and work through our emotions. If your child tells you that they are sad, scared etc. – listen.
Don’t be dismissive of their feelings with statements like “no you’re not” or “it’s not that bad”. If your child is not listened to regarding their feelings then they will become more emotionally withdrawn and develop an inability to self–reflect. It helps to validate your child’s emotions by acknowledging their present state before moving on to a discussion i.e. “Yes I can see you feel sad, why do you think you feel this way today?”
5. Demonstrate good stress-management ability
This may be a little bit of a “fake it ‘til you make it” policy, but it’s extremely important. Next time you are rushed off your feet in the morning try to remain calm. If your child constantly sees stress devolve into panic, anger and frustration then they are likely to pick up on these cues and do the same.
Next time you feel stressed around your child, ask yourself where this stress is coming from, and whether you are doing the most adaptive thing to manage it. Often, the answer to this question does not contain freaking out.
Focus on your breathing, gather your thoughts and do what needs to be done in the present moment. Once your child sees their role model turn a stressful situation into a well- anaged one, they will start to be much calmer when they are in stressful situations themselves.
6. Teach your child to embrace positive thinking
Many children become stressed about things that haven’t even happened yet! They might fixate over messing up their lines in the school play or failing that spelling test. In any case it doesn’t help to have a negative outlook. Next time your child takes a gloomy outlook on life try to redirect their thoughts to the positives and what could go right!
Ask them what they want to happen and practice affirmations. Another excellent way to restructure stress-producing negativity is to write gratitude lists. In time your child can learn the value of the glass half full!
Stress is a part of life and it can help us motivate ourselves to achieve and take situations seriously when they are important. When stress becomes excessive, however, it can have a negative influence. Of course, talking professionals like psychologists, social workers, or other mental health professionals can help you find the skill you need when the basics still aren't working.
Teaching your child the skills they need from the start will benefit them for their whole life, and it may also help you manage your stress in the process.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Pham, L. (2016). Mindful Parenting: A Guide for Mental Health Practitioners.
I often speak with people who insist that significant regular alcohol intake is an important part of maintaining their mental health. Obviously many people are aware that significant use of alcohol can damage many aspects of life, but it is nice to have research to back up this assertion.
A recent study conducted by the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research in conjunction with the University of Sussex has found that while people are temporarily happier when drinking alcohol, it leads to lower happiness levels over time. Not surprisingly, those who go on to develop drinking problems are significantly less satisfied with life.
The study utilised an innovative iPhone- based app and a more traditional cohort study design to explore the complex relationship between alcohol consumption and happiness. This study focused not only on how happiness and drinking directly affect each other, but how this relationship evolves over time.
Study 1 examined changes in life satisfaction and weekly alcohol consumption. It did so using a cohort of Britons born in 1970 and the CAGE questionnaire (a screen for problem drinking and alcohol problems). This segment of the study had a large cohort of over 29,000 individuals.
Study 2 meanwhile, recorded changes in happiness levels as individuals were drinking alcohol, using iPhone data which was recorded from a very large sample of over 31,000 individuals. This is the first study to measure alcohol use as it occurs with an iPhone app.
Study 1 found no significant relationship between drinking and life satisfaction but did find a negative association between life satisfaction and potential drinking problems. Study 2 revealed a significant, positive relationship between happiness and drinking.
Researchers controlled for extenuating factors and negative life events (e.g. long- term Illness) in order to ensure results accurately reflected the influence of drinking.
One major limitation of both studies was the limited population sample used. Study 2 for example, involved IPhone users only. Such a sample limits itself to presumably younger and wealthier
populations. Study 1 focused on quite a narrow age range between 30 and 42. These populations are not representative of the general majority, making it difficult to justify generalising the findings. It is however, an interesting starting point for further research.
Alcohol Doesn't Fix Life's Problems
In short, this research found that while the iPhone drinkers were happier at the moment of alcohol consumption, this happiness did not spill over into their wider lives. In fact, alcohol consumption over time led to decreased life satisfaction, in particular when problem drinking was present.
This means that alcohol- related happiness is purely transient - by the next day, or by the time the individual has sobered up, there are no lasting positive effects. It also means however, that drinking appears to have no negative consequences on life- satisfaction in the short term, at least for those without a drinking problem.
The study has real value when it comes to advising policy making. The impact of alcohol on the individual is often simplified in public discussions relating to health and family services rather than happiness or life satisfaction. Unfortunately some individuals would trade long-term health for a happy life. Hopefully this research highlights that even the happiness that alcohol brings is fleeting and often leave more problems the next morning.
In short, the message of this study is the same as many others- most things are okay in moderation but excessive drinking never has positive consequences . If you feel long- term or heavy drinking is affecting your wellbeing do not hesitate to contact your nearest health professional or support service.
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Ben Baumberg Geiger, George MacKerron. Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach. Social Science & Medicine, 2016; 156: 184
Supersurvivors are individuals who not only rebuilt their lives, but also thrive and grow in ways never previously imagined.
One of the key characteristic of these people is their ability to forgive.
Forgiveness is still a phenomenon. The research shows a large representative sampling of American people on various religious topics found that 94% said it was important to forgive, but 85% said they needed some outside help to be able to forgive. A few years ago, I heard that there was another research project on forgiveness found that only 25% of the people polled had the capacity to forgive.
Apparently we believe in forgiveness, but don’t know how.
A new book entitled, Supersurvivors: The Surprising link between Suffering and Success, written by authors David B. Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz, illustrates this. Through interviews the authors were able to isolate five characteristics of these super human beings.
Supersurvivors all had a grounded sense of hope, which is described as “an approach to life involving building one’s choices on a firm understanding of reality.”
They were delusional in a good sense of the word. They were able to push back nay-sayers in order to try the extra-ordinary. Without some delusional thinking, Supersurvivors may find recovery intimidating or even impossible.
They were able to remain open to others who wished to support them. In other words they pushed through the natural response to trauma to isolate themselves, to remain open to others.
They were able to forgive. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Without forgiveness there is no hope.” These Supersurvivors do not hold grudges. It is their ability to forgive that enables them to fully accept what has happened and move forward.
And lastly they had faith. “Whatever their believe system, these people are able to tap into the power of connection with something larger than themselves.”
According to the book, two decades of research has revealed that on an average 50 to 80 percent of people who have lived through trauma say that they’ve grown in some way. Even in the midst of pain they’ve opened up to and embraced new choices. “This is an incredible testament to the power of the human spirit in the face of tragedy.”
Every situation in life- though disappointing at first – opens up new possibilities if we can forgive.
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.
- Paul Boese
Couples Counsellor and Coach