Health

Dr. David Lopez: “In recent years, the number of mental illnesses among young people has increased”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10 to 20 percent of European teenagers have mental health or behavioral problems. Protecting the mental health of our youth should be a fundamental pillar of any society that wants to build a good future, as it is at this stage that the social and emotional habits that are vital to present and future mental well-being develop. .

Currently, post-pandemic and social mediait is difficult to maintain good mental health because symptoms of depression, isolation, or conduct disorders are exacerbated and exacerbated by these factors. Timely good treatment will help to avoid complications in the future.According to WHO, adolescents suffering from any mental illness are more likely to suffer from social exclusion, discrimination and even stigmatization in society.

Dr. David López Gómez, psychiatrist and director of the MenteAmente Mental Health Center in Madrid, spoke with Diario As expressing his concern about this problem, which has become worse in recent years, and insisting that early detection of symptoms is the best way to avoid great evils.

Q: Why is it important to take care of mental health from an early age?

A: The age range in which most mental disorders begin is between 8 and 15 years of age. Many disorders that begin at this age persist into adulthood. Any prevention strategy must consider this age. In addition, early treatment in the initial stages is associated with a better long-term prognosis and a better course of the disease. These are the two main reasons why it is important to take care of mental health in childhood.

“Early treatment in the initial stages is associated with a better long-term prognosis”

Dr. David Lopez

Q: How concerned is the mental health of young people?

A: Experiences in childhood and adolescence have a huge impact on adult life. For this reason, it is extremely important to take care of the mental health of young people. When something worries us, it’s because we may not have done it before. Mental health professionals have been warning for years about how important prevention is in the early stages of development and how little it carries in society and politics.

Question: Has the pandemic increased the number of young patients?

Answer: The pandemic has made mental health problems visible not only because of the dramatic increase in hospital cases, especially among teenagers, but also because of the way it has affected us all psychologically. In illness, we usually use a defense mechanism called denial: it consists in not remembering the reality that can hurt us. People can live in peace thinking that we will not get sick or that we will never suffer from depression. We believe that this only happens to other people or that we can even do something to avoid it. The pandemic has shown us that the disease cannot be avoided, that it is a lottery. Of course, we can avoid too many ballots, but we can’t not play.

“In illness, we usually use a defense mechanism called denial: it consists in not remembering the reality that can hurt us. People can live in peace thinking we won’t get sick or that we’ll never get depressed.”

Dr. David Lopez

Q: Is it during adolescence that more mental illness occurs?

A: A study published in 2021 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry groups Nature concluded that mental health problems began before the age of 14 in one in three people. This data takes into account any psychiatric diagnosis: OCD, depression, addictions, ADHD, anxiety, personality disorders, etc.

Q: Do you think that mental disorders in young people have increased in recent years?

A: Child and adolescent mental health services have been oversupplied in recent years to the point of becoming severely inadequate, and this is not just due to population growth. The deterioration in the mental health of adolescents is evidenced both by the subjective impressions of those who work in children’s and adolescent health centers, and by various published studies. Not only the number of cases has increased, but also their severity. The increase in the number of suicide attempts among this population is striking. In 2022, the number of suicide attempts almost doubled compared to previous years. Fortunately, the number of completed suicides has remained stable and has not increased proportionately.

Q: Do you think this growth could be related to social media?

A: We can’t blame social media for everything that happens. If I had to choose a trigger, I would no doubt choose a pandemic.

What is certain about social media is that its malicious use can act as a stressor. and cause other health problems. Social media contributes to a sedentary lifestyle and social isolation, and its overuse has been linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“Social media contributes to sedentary lifestyle and social isolation, and its excessive use is associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety”

Dr. David Lopez

Problematic or harmful use of social media is measured by more than just the time spent on it. Other factors such as: anxiety about their use or what is published in them, mood changes motivated by the opinion of others about the publication, withdrawal symptoms or inability to maintain voluntary abstinence.

Question: How harmful, in your opinion, are social networks psychologically for young people?

Answer: We have seen that the relationship between social media and depression is bidirectional: depressed people use social media more, and social media use can contribute to increased depressive symptoms. In addition to depression, social media use has been associated with anxiety, low self-esteem, and loneliness. Young people may be more vulnerable to these problems than adults.

On the other hand, we have to admit that social networks have become an indisputable means of communication for young people. We cannot deprive any teenager of using this way of relating to their peers. We also need to acknowledge the informational work that social networks do. We know that many social media users, including teenagers, are looking for mental health information. While not all sources are reliable, many of us (health professionals) spend a significant amount of our free time posting informative articles on blogs and social media. For example, our website has a blog that is visited daily by thousands of users from different Spanish-speaking countries.

Q: What are the most common mental health conditions in young people? Is there anything obtained in particular from social networks?

Answer: As we have said, most mental disorders begin in childhood or adolescence, and this applies to any mental disorder. So in youth, all pathologies are possible. The most common are depression, anxiety in its various forms, ADHD, behavioral disorders or eating behavior.

As we have said, depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem are strongly associated with problematic social media use. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized video game addiction. In several forums, the possibility of recognizing dependence on social networks as an independent entity was raised. Perhaps in the next few years it will be recognized by WHO.

P: Is pharmacological or therapeutic treatment for young people the same as for adults?

Answer: Treatment methods are the same in the sense that two main options are available to us: medication and psychotherapy. What is very different is the approach. For this reason, work is under way on the idea of ​​creating a medical specialty in child and adolescent psychiatry and another in clinical psychology.

“Currently, work is underway on the idea of ​​creating a medical specialty in child and adolescent psychiatry and another in clinical psychology”

Dr. David Lopez

Our specialty is based on human relations and we all know that talking to an adult is not the same as talking to a teenager. A child psychiatrist needs special tools, training, and experience working with adolescents. Special training is also needed to work with parents and the educational center.

Q: How can we tell if we are facing a mental breakdown or just a “timely downturn”?

A: In case of doubt, it is better to consult a specialist. Just like we do with any physical pain or blemish that appears on our skin.

The duration of the symptoms, as well as their involvement in various areas of human functioning, are signs that we should pay attention to. A depression lasting more than two weeks may be, for example, depression. A young person who is absent from school, fails in grades, or stops going out with friends can make us suspicious.

Q: Is there any kind of prophylaxis to avoid or prevent these pathologies in young people?

A: Child maltreatment and abuse are in many cases major risk factors for developing a mental disorder. Early detection during childhood and adolescence would be another very important factor. Finally, avoidance of addictive substances that may trigger or aggravate underlying disorders.

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