When teen stress is deadly

When teen stress is deadly

World Mental Health Day falls every year on Oct 10. The day designated to raise awareness of the overlooked problem of mental wellbeing aims to establish proper mental healthcare for people around the world.

Like physical disorders such as high blood pressure and stroke that often give no warning before causing fatalities, mental illness can be a silent killer.

Suicidal depression, for instance, is on the rise, and that is reflected in many cases in local and international news, including that about high-profile figures such as former deputy national police chief Pol Gen Salang Bunnag, fashion designer Kate Spade, and celebrity chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain, not to mention unreported suicide attempts.

It's sad enough to hear of adults taking their lives, but it's even more distressing when that happens to youngsters, who face different challenges than previous generations.

Whereas in previous years, World Mental Health Day focused on, for instance, mental health in the workplace or among seniors, the 2018 iteration comes under the theme "Young People And Mental Health In A Changing World".

According to the World Health Organisation, half of all mental illness begins by age 14 but most cases go undetected and untreated.

As in adults, one of the major concerns is depression, which is defined as an illness characterised by persistent sadness and losing interest in favourite activities, along with an aversion to carrying out daily activities, for at least two weeks.

In Thailand alone, 44%, or three million Thais aged between 10 to 19, are at risk of depression, estimated by the Department of Mental Health (DMH) in Dec 2017.

The DMH further noted that 18%, or 1 million, are afflicted by mental illness that is often undetected or misdiagnosed, such as the behavioural issues typical of teenagers.

A tragic case was in the news in August, when a Mathayom 6 student jumped from the fifth floor of a school building in Si Sa Ket's Muang district, with the shocking incident captured in a video clip and witnessed by other students.

Why the teenager committed suicide at such a young age was not concluded, but assumptions included stress from him being bullied by his peers.

Last month there was another case, of an even younger student -- Mathayom 2 -- in the Muang district of Chon Buri province.

The 14-year-old girl actually called 191 about her intention to jump from a pedestrian bridge. Fortunately, she was saved by a compassionate policeman, who spent one hour cheering her up and talked her out of ending her life.

Triggering circumstances were reported as her being scolded by a teacher and having had a quarrel with a friend, as well as often seeing her parents argue.

Likewise, a 17-year-old Mathayom 6 student, stressed from seeing her parents in a fight, intended to jump from an overpass above Chiang Mai-Lampang Road. Luckily, she too was saved by the police.

These three recent cases exemplify how teenagers are susceptible to stress and pressure from school and family life, besides the changes they naturally go through at this stage of their lives.

The theme of this year's World Mental Health Day takes into account other challenges faced today. Social media and digital technology in general, while beneficial when used appropriately, can cause mental and emotional stress.

As prevention is better than cure, building mental resilience and instilling life skills from an early age will help youngsters cope with the pressures of today's world.

But most fundamentally, psychological wellness should be a priority as much as physical health, with all parties, from parents and teachers to the community and healthcare providers, on board to help keep kids protected against mental illness.

Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Kanokporn Chanasongkram

Feature writer

Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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