Prevalence of mental health problems continues to be a challenge, often beyond the capacity to keep up, especially for most school counsellors. What if, rather than a mental health epidemic we are in the thick of a cultural crisis for adolescents. The challenge being, as adults and professionals, many are blindingly fast to formulate an assessment and diagnosis. Folk aren’t so open to closing the text books and inquiring further into the why’s as it looks and sounds on the ground.
For each of us, the incredible uniqueness brings a collage of opinions and philosophies on the how’s, when’s and what’s of just about anything. The moment a penny dropped for me was after speaking to a male teenage client of mine. As part of my thesis I conducted a interview reflecting on a programme I had created targeting the reduction of adolescent depression. The quantitative data made for comfort reading as it affirmed, with bells and whistles, the efficacy of the programme I had developed.The qualitative side of things presented a real headache to start off with, and the participants clearly didn’t get the memo. What I had was three different, tried and tested measures for depression symptomatology showing clear improvements pre and post intervention. The participants I had in front of me mirrored through both sight and sound the positive changes the data suggested. It was the absolute commitment to being depressed that rang confusingly loud and clear. No better example was that offered by the client I mentioned. Without skipping a beat he reflected that he ‘did better than he wanted to’. Thank heavens it was a multi tasking head space day, as this statement has stayed with me ever since.
After five years and thousands of adolescent clients later my observations and experiences have continued to build around this topic, as both a an issue around barriers to engaging, but primarily around how to both identify risk and support positive change and increase resiliency to prevent escalating challenges in the first place.
Apart from societies eagerness to have a label and the discussion around increased diagnosis vs increase actual growth, I believe we are in the middle of a cultural shift where adolescents are connecting through disconnection. This is nothing new if you consider drugs, alcohol and gangs etc. but technology and social media is new (ish) and it’s impact-or exploration of- is a work in progress.
This topic is too huge to discuss fully within a couple of hundred words and a funky picture. One example of what this looks like is when I reflect on the substantial increase in students that confidently march into my office, outlining with immense energy their newly diagnosed Depression, Anxiety and ADHD, and then ordering the first of six CBT interventions, before looking at me expectantly and my return look of surprise.
We are now seeing social groups developing from the common grounding of having an emotional difficulty, so connecting through disconnection. Social media offers extensive input into what this may look and sound like, and all too often to excess.
When adolescents are embarking on the confusing journey that is identity formation, I feel it is really important to support and introduce as many positive connections as possible, otherwise they will find connections elsewhere, and in this technological age, that tends not to end so well.
This observation refers to an emerging adolescent culture, and certainly not a universal broad brush of all adolescents that visit a Counsellor, Psychologist or Psychotherapist. What it perhaps highlights is the real need for caution in terms of knee jerk diagnosis, to ensure professionals don’t create the very problem we strive to overcome.