Teens, Mental Health & the Journey of Self Discovery
The adolescent years are critical for teenagers to discover their self-identity and for young people to have a healthy start in life. The road to a healthy and sustainable adulthood, on the other hand, is not easy. It frequently comes with challenges ranging from social relationships to mental health. It’s often fascinating to watch teenagers go through crucial identity exploration and development stages during their adolescent years.
In this journey of self discovery, social support from parents is important because parents are often the adult figures that children look up to. To help us better understand this journey and how parents can positively impact their teenage children’s mental health, we’ve invited Dr. Sam Jeng Mun, an experienced clinical psychologist at Serene Psychological Services and a Senior Lecturer at Taylor’s University, to shed some light on this important topic.
1Twenty80: What are the most common mental struggles among adolescents?
Dr. Sam Jeng Mun: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common mental disorders among adolescents is aptly coined as Common Mental Disorder (CMD), which comprises depression and anxiety. These 2 mental disorders are termed as CMD because they commonly co-occur or comorbid.
1Twenty80: Does physical health have an impact on one’s mental health?
Dr. Sam: Yes, individuals who suffer from physical health related ailments may have their daily functions significantly impacted too. This can adversely affect their psychological well-being. Individuals who suffer from terminal illness or chronic illnesses cause more long-term mental disorders if left untreated.
Individuals who suffer from terminal illness or chronic illnesses cause more long-term mental disorders if left untreated.Dr. Sam Jeng Mun
1Twenty80: Why are the teenage years some of the most crucial points in the development of mental health?
Dr. Sam: According to Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Stages, individuals between ages 12 to 18 go through a stage called identity development. At this age, most teens explore their sense of self and independence. If the individual at this stage was not given appropriate opportunity to explore and develop their identity, they may encounter identity or role confusion, which can affect the later stage in their young adult life or even at a later stage of adulthood.
1Twenty80: What are the signs parents or caretakers can look for that may indicate that their teenagers need help with their mental health?
Dr. Sam: Seeking early interventions/psychological assistance can be very beneficial in terms of prognosis of the mental disorder. Early signs and symptoms for CMD includes sense of hopelessness and persistent sadness, drastic change in their behavior, topics evolving around suicide and death, and more.
1Twenty80: Is the “rebellious phase” a part of the growing up process amongst teenagers? If so, how can parents or caretakers help their teens throughout this process?
Dr. Sam: It’s important to remember that “teenagers” are constantly searching for their own identity and self-concept during their teen years. It is a crucial stage for them to understand who they are. At this stage, they are constantly exploring and experimenting with different roles, activities, and behaviours. This is an important stage for them to form an identity and develop a sense of direction in their life. It is called the “rebellious phase” because they are actively searching for their identity and that does not mean that they do not want to follow their parent’s advice. However, they still require some guidance in this process, so that they do not end up committing serious crime or be a part of irreversible consequences.
1Twenty80: How can a concerned parent or caretaker talk to their teenager about mental health?
Dr. Sam: In order to open up about the topic of mental health in the family, the parents and family should provide a safe space for this to happen. The family should actively support the idea of openly speaking about mental health among themselves as well. This can create more trust and security when the teenager speaks about mental health. Consequently, they are more willing to talk about their own mental health issues.
Therefore, families should focus on destigmatising and actively talking about mental health as an open issue. This can allow the youth to be open in sharing about their own mental health as well.Dr. Sam Jeng Mun
1Twenty80: How can a parent or a caretaker get help for their teenager who is struggling with mental health issues?
Dr. Sam: Mental health services in Malaysia have been growing recently. There are hotlines, government hospitals as well as private hospitals and centres that offer mental health support for teenagers. They can seek services online, or face-to-face.
1Twenty80: How can a parent or a caretaker help with promoting their child’s mental health and well-being?
Dr. Sam: We have to walk the talk to develop trust from the child in opening up something that they may feel very insecure about. While taboo and stigmatisation on mental health happens among the society, it is believed that stigmatisation also often happens among the vulnerable group of the population. In this context, it refers to the teens and youth. Therefore, families should focus on destigmatising and actively talking about mental health as an open issue. This can allow the youth to be open in sharing about their own mental health as well.
If you or a loved one is in a life-threatening situation or an emergency, call the 24 hour hotlines: Talian Kasih at 15999 or Befrienders at 03-795 68145.
Did you know?
1 in 8 adolescents, aged 10 to 19, are estimated to have mental disorders.
Source: Malaysian National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS), 2019