Adolescence is a time of great change. Coming of age involves phases of physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral transitions and adjustments. As the individual grows into adulthood, there are various struggles and challenges, and attention to one’s mental health during this time is just as important as attention to physical health. In the past few years, particularly with the pandemic and lockdowns, there has been a tremendous increase in mental health issues in youth of all ages. According to the World Health Organization “globally, one in seven 10 to 19-year-olds experiences a mental health disorder, accounting for 13 percent of the global burden of disease in this age group.” Anxiety disorders and depression are the most prevalent in that age group, with an estimated 3.6 percent of 10 to 14-year-olds and 4.6 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds dealing with some form of anxiety. And 1.1 percent of 10 to 14-year-olds and 2.8 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds suffer from depression. One can assume that there are those who go undiagnosed and untreated.
Many risk factors contribute to mental health issues including an unsupportive environment or even negligence or abuse. Trauma, substance abuse in the family, social stresses, fear, or anxiety — all of these can significantly affect a young person who does not know how to adequately cope.
Adding to the usual factors that affect the mental health of youth is the pandemic. Numerous studies report on the negative psychological effects of the pandemic and the burden placed on children and youth who dealt with school closures resulting in remote learning, as well as being cut off from in-person friendships and social interactions. This disruption left many children lagging behind in cognitive and emotional development. In addition, the very limited social interactions with others left youth feeling lonely and parents, teachers, and experts have worried about the loss of this crucial aspect of development for children and teenagers alike.
Adding to the dilemma is that stigma surrounding mental health challenges continues to plague many communities and/or families, and in some cultures this stigma is very strong and acts as impediment to seeking help or getting treatment. In some racial and ethnic communities, reaching out for help may be seen as a sign of weakness, lack of faith, or mental disease.
Parents and communities can support children and teens who are struggling with mental health. The first step is to watch for warning signs and take note of emotional and behavioral changes. A child might openly express feeling stressed or depressed or he or she might signal that through acting out or withdrawing emotionally. Parents should make sure to openly communicate with their child about their emotions and feelings. If your child continues to have issues, it is important to seek help and support from a professional counselor.
The Importance of Mental Health in Islam
Islamically, mental health is just as important as your physical health and well-being. And is it critical to take care of one’s mental health in order to live a well-balanced lifestyle. In the past, Muslim scholars and physicians such as Al-Razi and Abu Zayd Al-Balkhi understood and acknowledged how important mental well-being is and highlighted the importance of balancing all aspects of the self, including the mental and physical aspects.
In the Qur’an and ahadith there are many references to the importance of self-care and well-being. One verse describes the importance of knowing that Allah SWT is always with us and will not put any person through hardship beyond their capacity to bear (2:286). Dhikr, d’ua, and salat are prime ways to get closer to Allah SWT; and remembering Him helps to bring peace to minds and hearts.
Help the Youth Develop Healthy Coping Skills
Tailored to the age and maturity of your child/youth, the following can help your child maintain good mental health:
- Model good behaviors and traits including patience, perseverance, resilience, and tolerance. These traits are especially important to demonstrate when the parent herself or himself feels stressed. Children learn from and imitate their parents so being a good role model is essential.
- Help your child learn to look at the problem or cause of stress in a wider perspective. Their first impulse may be to catastrophize the situation. Lead them to view the situation as a problem to be solved and an opportunity to learn. Guide your child to consider factors or aspects of the situation they may not have recognized on their own.
- Let them know that there are some issues that are outside our control and others that we can do something about. When the issue is minor or fleeting, teach them ways to “let things go” like deep breathing and positive self-talk.
- Guide your child to activities such as reading, art, or sports/exercise that can provide great outlets for stress and contribute to coping in a healthy way with challenges and difficulties.
- Make sure your child has a good support system including both family and friends. Let them know they can always come to you to share whatever they are going through, whether positive or negative. Practice listening in an active, nonjudgmental way when your child does share.
- Teach your child to practice gratitude for the good things in their life. This is best done by example so be willing to express your own gratitude out loud, at appropriate times.
- Invest time with your child in volunteer activities. Helping others has many benefits to the one who is helping, including realizing a sense of responsibility to those less fortunate as well as helping to put one’s own challenges in a wider perspective.
Most importantly, teach your child that remembering Allah SWT, making dhikr, du’a, and salat are essential means to cope in a healthy way with life’s ups and downs; and calling on Him, for young and old alike, is a valuable and powerful way to find peace of mind and heart.