September 10, 2021

What are the red flags? How should you respond? Where can you get help? Dr. Francis Dimalanta breaks it all down in Alagang UNILAB’s online discussion.

Mental health includes the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of a person. It affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts. This is relevant at any age.  

To help address concerns on mental health among teens and young adults 13 to 25 years old, Unilab, Inc. (UNILAB), the leading pharmaceutical and healthcare company in the Philippines, recently held an online event entitled Alagang Unilab: Mental Health in Young Adults (Red Flags and Responses) to discuss the warning signs and proper response to these young adults.

Lending his expertise on the topic is Dr. Francis Xavier Dimalanta, a member of the board of trustees in both the Philippine Society for Developmental Pediatrics and the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS). He is the head of the PPS Task Force on Mental Health for Children and Adolescents. 

“Good mental health is important for healthy teenage development, strong relationships, and resilience. Strong and loving relationships can have a direct and positive influence on teenage mental health,” begins Dr. Dimalanta.

He went on to enumerate the characteristics of good mental health. “This is when they are happier and feeling positive about themselves. They bounce back from upsets and disappointments. They have healthier relationships with family and friends.

“They do physical activities and eat a healthy diet. They have a sense of achievement. They can relax and get a good night’s sleep. And they feel like they belong to their communities.”

Current scenario

According to Dr. Dimalanta, half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years old and this condition accounts for 16 percent of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10 to 19 year olds. Unfortunately, most cases are undetected and untreated. 

On a global scale, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents while suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15 to 19 year olds. The ongoing pandemic only made matters worse.

“The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions as it can extend to adulthood, impair both physical and mental health, and limit opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults,” he says.

Among these conditions that Dr. Dimalanta is referring to are emotional disorders like depression and anxiety, eating disorders, psychosis, suicide and self-harm, and risk taking behaviors. 

“Risk-taking behaviors such as substance abuse and promiscuity all starts in adolescence. This kind of behavior can be both an unhelpful strategy to cope with poor mental health and can severely impact an adolescent’s mental and physical well-being,” he explains.

Tell-tale signs

Low moods, poor motivation, and trouble in sleeping are sometimes normal for children and teenagers, says Dr. Dimalanta. But if you notice any of the following signs and the signs go on for more than a few weeks, it’s important to talk to your child and/or get professional help.

  • Seeming down, feeling things are hopeless, being tearful or lacking motivation
  • Having trouble coping with everyday activities
  • Showing sudden changes in behavior, often for no obvious reason
  • Having trouble eating or sleeping
  • Doing less well at school or suddenly refusing to go to school
  • Avoiding friends or social contact
  • Saying they have physical pain, e.g., headache, stomach ache
  • Being aggressive or anti-social, e.g., missing school, fighting or stealing
  • Being very anxious about weight or physical appearance, losing weight or failing to gain weight as they grow

Mental health problems can be caused by a number of reasons. Among them are: childhood abuse, trauma or neglect; social isolation or loneliness; experiencing discrimination and stigma; social disadvantage, poverty, or debt; and losing someone close to them.

It can also be severe or long-term stress, having a long-term physical health condition, being a long-term caregiver for someone, drug and alcohol misuse, and domestic violence, bullying or other abuse as an adult.

“The human brain is extremely complicated. Some research suggests that mental health problems may be linked to a variation of certain brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. 

“Although the development of some mental health problems may be influenced by our genes, researchers haven’t found any specific genes that definitely cause mental health problems.

What can you do?

Dr. Dimalanta explains that diagnosis for mental health problems is a multi-step process that may include more than one healthcare provider. But it is important to understand that it needs to begin with a primary care physician.  In the case of young adults, it’s the pediatrician.

Before a diagnosis is made, the patient may need to undergo a physical exam to rule out a physical condition because some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, can have physical causes. If the doctor doesn’t find any physical cause for the symptoms, only then can the patient be referred to a mental health professional for evaluation.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dimalanta shares a few tips on how to help ensure mental wellness. “It is important to teach your children positive coping skills and educate them about mental wellness and mental illness.”

“Encourage them also to mind-body wellness because mental and emotional health are closely intertwined with physical health.  

Equally important is to communicate openly and as often as possible. Knowing that parents are available to listen and provide support can be an invaluable source of comfort. 

Lastly, Dr. Dimalanta gave emphasis on letting teens know that help is available. “Parents should introduce teens to the resources that are available.  They can help teenagers understand that therapy is not an acknowledgement that something is “wrong” with the teen but rather it is tool they can use to take control of their mental health.”

Learn more about Dr. Dimalanta’s lecture on “Mental Health in Young Adults” by logging on to UNILAB’s Facebook page

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