We need to treat anxiety properly

Psychologists from the University of Reading have recently called attention to problems in the treatment of adolescent mental health, specifically anxiety.

Their concern is that teenagers are being treated in the same way as children would be, and this fails to address the specific needs of the group. While the report has gone largely unnoticed, it highlights a very important issue.

Young Minds, a charity dedicated to youth mental health, has researched the prevalence of problems and offers statistics: 11.5% of those between 11 and 16 have a mental health disorder. 4.4% of these are classified as anxiety disorders.

The parameters also include conduct disorder, depression and behavioural disorders such as ADHD. However, they cannot claim to be anything more than estimates, as a significant number of cases go unreported or undiagnosed.

Care is also lacking. Over half of councils have frozen or cut funding towards mental health, waiting lists are long, and there is a lack of beds, forcing patients to travel and be separated from support networks. In the worst cases, patients will be transferred instead to adult mental wards, or if violent behaviour is a symptom, to prisons.

Treating adolescents in the same way as children not only oversimplifies their causes and triggers, but can exacerbate them, making them feel as though they are not being taken seriously.

There are problems and challenges specific to that age group that will not be addressed with a child’s standard of treatment, such as relationships, exams, and preparation for university or work. It is the age most people begin questioning their sexuality, and hormone fluctuations and puberty make managing your emotions harder.

Young women in particular experience a marked increase in low moods and a worsening of body image. These factors all indicate specific mental health concerns for young people.

When an adolescent makes the difficult step to seek mental health treatment, care needs to be tailored to their specific issues. Cognitive behavioural therapy, a common form of treatment for anxiety and depression, focuses on addressing and managing triggers.

This requires an acknowledgement of age-related problems, and a therapist must be trained to deal with them, not just those which are also experienced by children. Better therapy leads to better results, and less chance of relapse or a worsening of condition, which in mental health can lead to dire consequences.

It seems like simple common sense to say that treatment needs to be centred on the individual, and take into account external factors like age. To ignore the differences between a child and an adolescent in the latter’s treatment is obviously damaging, discouraging, and limits its success.

When the rate of youth mental health problems is over one in ten, it affects everyone in some way or another. As such, youth mental health and the deficiencies of the system surrounding it are something we should all be paying attention to.

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