Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mental Health: Not Just Something to Think About

By Maria Monge, MD
Austin adolescent medicine physician

It is Global Teen Health Week and today we are focusing on Mental Health. Research shows that a healthy mind helps keep bodies healthy. Adolescents and young adults are significantly impacted by mental health issues. In the United States, almost one in seven teens is currently dealing or has dealt with depression. What’s more, one in three has current or past anxiety. Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults.

As an adolescent specialist, I routinely discuss mental health concerns with my patients and their families, as I firmly believe that good physical health is linked to good mental health. I often give my patients these five tips to improve their mental health.

Five Tips for Improving Mental Health

  1. Sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adolescents and young adults require 8-10 hours of sleep per night for optimal functioning throughout the day. Unfortunately, very few teens are able to achieve this. Strategies such as consistent bed time and wake times, trying not to nap during the day, using filters to block blue light filters from electronic devices (blue light can disturb your sleep cycle) and avoiding all electronics one hour prior to bedtime can all be helpful to promote better sleep quality.
  2. Eat. Teens need consistent meals throughout the day as well as enough food to fuel their bodies, brains, and activities. Skipping meals and nutrition can lead to increased anxiety, feelings of sadness, and inability to think clearly. Some teens like to eat multiple times per day such as three smaller meals and three snacks, while others find that eating three full meals is a better option. Either way, nutrition fuels a healthy and happy brain.
  3. Drink water. Setting a goal of 64 ounces (8 cups) of water per day not only helps with overall health, but also with mental health. Even mild dehydration can have an effect on mood. A way to judge how much water Is consumed in a day is to fill up a 64-ounce container with water and place it in the refrigerator and only drink water from that container during the day. People are often surprised how little they are drinking! It is a good visual reminder of just how much fluid we need to stay healthy.
  4. Exercise. Experts recommend 60 minutes of physical activity every day for children and young teens, and at least 60 minutes 3-5 times per week for older teens and young adults. The physical activity should be of moderate intensity and include some strength training, such as body weight squats or resistance band training. Often it is helpful to set small goals for exercise and work up from there. Additionally, scheduling a time to exercise helps to make it part of a routine.
  5. Practice Mindfulness. Teenagers and young adults often feel stress and anxiety about their lives. Mindfulness is a mental state that occurs when an individual acknowledges and accepts his or her present emotional and physical feelings. It is a powerful way to deal with stress in the moment and is a way to approach life without judgement. Using mindfulness has been shown to decrease stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depressed mood. It is sometimes not easy to be mindful, especially when faced with a stressful situation, but practicing skills over time can really help with this. There are multiple websites and free mobile applications that are available to guide teens. (The Journal of Medical Internet Research, a peer-reviewed journal for digital medicine and health care, published their findings on the best mindfulness mobile apps — you can view their results here.)

If you or your family member are experiencing signs of depressed mood, anxiety, or overwhelming stress, please call your doctor for an evaluation. If you or a family member does not feel safe or is experiencing thoughts of suicide, immediately call 911, go to your local emergency room, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

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