Having conversations with teachers has taught me solemn lessons about young people of today. School-age children are increasingly suffering from depression, severe anxiety, sadness and other mental health issues. Hardly a week goes by without an educator reporting disruption by a student having a panic attack. The report further stated that a record number of kids are on powerful psychotropic medications; this medication is used to stabilize their mood.

There is an increase in the number of kids experiencing mental distress than ever before

What could be the reason for the outbreak in psychological distress? A number of factors have been implicated. Nowadays, parents and children are more harried and burdened with demands than ever before.

The regular emphasis on testing has formed an ultra-competitive environment and kids are under constant pressure to perform. Families and social bonds have been reducing for decades; kids do not have adequate time to be kids anymore because there is no room for unstructured activities.

When you add peer pressure, hormonal changes and bullying, it’s not surprising many kids are buckling under the stresses that surround them.

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Toddlers are being diagnosed with depression

Elementary school children and teens are not the only ones being diagnosed with mental health disorders. Psychiatric experts have identified toddlers exhibiting depression and other personality disorders.

What could be behind this trend, what can be done by parents to take of the psychological health of their kids? Before trying to dissect this question, let’s look at the following troubling facts:

CDC reported that about 20 percent of kids ages 3 to 17 suffer from a diagnosable behavioral or emotional, mental disorder.
In 2015, the suicide rate reached a 40 year high among girls

In young people today, Psychological disorders are the most common form of illness. The following are the factors contributing to mental health problems in kids.

Social media

The Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement released a report lately; it suggested that Instagram and Snapchat may be detrimental to the mental health of young people.

The report was compiled by Shirley Cramer (lead researcher for the project) who further explained that these social media platforms are image-focused and there is a possibility that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.

Academic pressures

Stuart Slavin a pediatrician reported that academic pressure is helping to drive an epidemic of anxiety in today’s students. According to him, professional and educational expectations have escalated out of control.

To rephrase his perspective, students spend an average of eight hours in the classroom, several hours of homework at night, in addition to hours of extracurricular activity every day, all these are expected to prepare young people for a professional career, and the never-ending demands to outshine the competition are making young people mentally and physically sick.

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To resolve this problem, Dr. Stuart Slavin carried out a research with students in medical school. He removed grades and introduced a pass/fail system. He also established small study groups to Promote cooperation and connections between students.

Dr. Stuart tried this approach for six years. During this period, self-reported rates of anxiety and depression among Dr. Stuart’s students reduced significantly. Worthy of note is that these students did just as well in terms of career placement.

Poor diet

Another factor impacting the mental health of children is Diet. Young people like Happy Meals, sugar-laden beverages, and processed foods, and do not want to be told to avoid these foods.

However, there is a lot of evidence which suggests that there is a link between the consumption of high-fructose diets and the worsening of anxiety and depression symptoms.

Several nutritionists and naturopathic physicians believe that highly processed foods (the calorie ladened but nutritionally deprived form that teens crave) can elicit trigger cycles of addictive-type dependency. For example, burger and fries have a high glycemic load which can cause blood glucose levels to rise dramatically (a sugar high) but then plummet.

A researcher at Emory University, Dr. Constance Harrell conducted a number of studies which shows that high-fructose diets intensify stress and undermines coping skills in kids.

She suggested that unhealthy diets lead to unhealthy minds. She further explained that the results offer new insights into ways diet can alter brain health; this can lead to negative implications for adolescent nutrition and development.

Dr. Constance suggested that eating more of whole grains, fruits and vegetables can break the stress cycle that is heavily reliant and triggered by processed foods.

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Boosting mental health in young people

Mental health is a complex problem and a silver bullet solution won’t likely work. Fortunately, it is a problem that can be gradually solved. Below are few ideas psychiatrist experts say can help build mental resilience and coping skills in kids:

De-emphasize outcomes and encourage effort:  Instituting a form of reward system for trying hard every time will help build self-esteem.

Encourage Technology breaks:   It is hard getting kids from their smartphones and TV screens. But there exists a positive correlation between too much screen time and depression. Studies have shown that people that incorporate outdoor activities, exercise and nature into their daily live happier lives than others who don’t.

Ensure your child gets adequate rest and a balanced diet:   Neuroprotective foods such as fish, nuts, leafy green veggies and berries can promote healthy brain functioning.

Bolster your child’s identity:  Your child should not feel he or she has to be perfect to deserve your praise and affection. Rather help them to identify things that they enjoy, take time out to do these fun things together, and make out time to express your love every day. A kid raised with self-worth is the most priceless gift any parent can give.