How are you? Really.
UNICEF Serbia campaign aimed at raising awareness about mental health in young people and adolescents
What is mental health?
Mental health is a state of well-being in which we are aware of our capabilities, we function well in society, effectively meet our obligations, and can easily cope with various stressful situations.
For a young person, mental health includes the ability to cope with the demands of school, university, establishing relationships with peers or first romantic relationships, and the ability to live a fulfilling life.
No person is completely resistant to problems. Depending on how we are coping with problems, our mental health can be better or worse, and include mental health problems. At the same time, even when someone has a problem, this does not mean that their health is completely impaired.
However, talking about mental health still carries a certain stigma, especially among young people, and opening up to close people or going to the doctor is not always an acceptable option for everyone. That is why UNICEF Serbia, in cooperation with the Government of the Kingdom of Norway, launched the Everything is OK project, with a website with detailed information about mental health, as well as a list of institutions and tools that can help you discuss, anonymously or in person, the problems you are facing and share your mental health concerns or experiences.
Each problem of this kind requires attention, and it is necessary to seek the help of family, friends or mental health professionals. In recent years in Serbia, especially among young people, there has been more and more open discussion about mental health problems, and among the most frequent discussions are those about depression and anxiety.
Keep reading to find out what these two problems look like in practice, and get tips on how to take care of yourself. However, whether the problem you are facing is something you hear about a lot or you think you are the only one facing it (and we guarantee you are not) – if you think you or one of your loved ones has a mental health problem, seek advice or professional help from people who are trained to help you in such situations.
What does depression look like?
The word has become very "popular" in recent years, and is used to describe the state when we don't feel so well and don’t feel like doing anything, in the narrow sense of the word, it is a mental disorder that is called more precisely the major depressive disorder. It is related to certain symptoms that we define as bad mood and low interest, physical symptoms and cognitive symptoms which last at least two weeks and hinder the functioning of the young person.
Although the main characteristics of the problem are bad mood and lack of interest and sense of enjoyment, depression has many faces. With young people, bad mood can be masked by irritability and grumpiness, and also by aggressive behaviour towards parents, teachers, peers and towards themselves (e.g. self-harm). In addition, depression can manifest through physical symptoms, and manifest as persistent headaches, usually in the form of a band around the head, or stomach-aches.
Often overlooked are the cognitive symptoms of depression, which sneak in on a person, leading to a drop in school performance, poor concentration, difficulty in learning, increased fatigue after studying.
A depressive way of thinking is characterized by a negative self-image, and a negative sense of the past and the future. A young person feels worthless, guilty, hopeless, and helpless, and often thinks about harming themselves.
With the appearance of biological signs of depression in the form of a sleeping disorder, and this usually means waking up during the night, depression has already become more serious. Loss of appetite is also one of the very common symptoms. It should be noted that, in addition to typical signs such as bad mood, waking up early and loss of appetite, signs such as irritability, sleeping more, even increased appetite and especially craving carbohydrates may also appear. That is why it is important for experts to assess such psychological conditions.
Behind the symptoms, there are often some thoughts that maintain depression, recurring thoughts that we are worthless. Also, perfectionism and the idea that we must be perfect is one of the things that often maintain this state.
Possible signs of depression:
- Drop in school performance, poor grades, increased effort to memorize things
- Complaints of headaches, stomach-aches
- Irritable behaviour, aggression towards others
- Changes in sleep and appetite (usually lower appetite and waking up early in the morning, two hours earlier than usual, but the opposite can also happen)
Mental health problems don’t include just depression, anxiety, and other diagnoses that only doctors can make. Anyone can have unpleasant feelings and thoughts that bother them or act in a way that is not very favourable for them. At the same time, just because someone does not have a significant problem at one point, it does not mean that it is not possible to develop it in the future, and they should continue regularly taking care of themselves and their mental health.
What does anxiety look like?
Fear is a person’s normal response to any danger that threatens our bodily integrity or sense of psychological integrity and self-esteem.
If the duration and intensity of our response to danger are not in accordance with the objective situation or we are afraid for no apparent reason, we are talking about anxiety. Unlike fear, with anxiety, there is no real danger or our anticipation and fear last so long and are of such intensity that it hinders our daily functioning in the family, society, and school.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, but they all have cognitive and somatic symptoms. The cognitive symptoms involve expecting that something bad will happen to us or our loved ones, while somatic or physical ones involve excessive stimulation of our vegetative nervous system and are most often manifested by rapid heartbeat or tightness in the chest, rapid breathing, stomach-ache.
With panic disorder, which is characterized by intense panic attacks, the person has a fear of losing control and fainting, with intense physical symptoms. With social phobia, these symptoms appear in a group of people you don’t know, before oral exams, etc.
The problem with anxiety is that the person can start withdrawing and avoiding others, so depression can develop, and attempts at self-treatment can lead to problems with alcohol or drug abuse.
Possible signs of anxiety:
- Nervousness before doing something, ultimately leading to a complete freeze
- Avoiding expressing your opinion except in a group of people you know, completely withdrawing and being quiet
- During a panic attack, the person wants to get out of the bus, leave the cinema, the class, they fear all places where they have no control over the situation and cannot quickly leave the room, they are not comfortable being in a place they cannot leave quickly
- Increased daily use of alcohol, marijuana, the feeling that a person has to take something in situations that cause normal anxiety
How to take care of yourself?
Adequate mental health care is particularly important in the period of early adolescence (between the ages of 10 and 19) because that is when the personality is being formed and developed, and due to the nature of development, it is somewhat more difficult for us to cope with countless challenges than later in life. Fortunately, there is a way to prevent most problems in time.
Signs that there is a problem in this area that some adolescents may exhibit, and which may indicate that they might be facing some kind of problem, may be:
- Sadness, feeling down and having no interest in anything (lasting for more than 2 weeks)
- Excessive worrying and overwhelming fear (with or without physiological manifestations – e.g. sweaty palms, rapid heartbeats, rapid breathing) that significantly hinders the daily functioning
- Frequent mood swings
- Inflicting physical pain on yourself or others
- Frequent heated quarrels with people around you
- Wanting to be alone
- Irritability and impulsive reactions
- Difficulty sustaining attention and/or excessive absent-mindedness
- Eating problems (including self-imposed starvation and/or vomiting)
- Abuse of psychoactive substances
There is no shame in asking for help and there is no need to wait for the problem to get worse – it is more likely you will resolve it easily if you pay extra attention to it as soon as you feel that it’s bothering you even a little. Moreover, one of the main characteristics of strong and stable people is knowing when it’s time to turn to someone else for help.