- June 7, 2021
According to the 2017 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Kenya has around 1.9 million cases of depression. This makes us the sixth country in Africa with the highest rate of depression. With such statistics, it comes as no surprise that teenage depression is on the rise, every day.
To unravel the mystery of mental health among teens, Mourine Odongo caught up with Ivanna Waweru to talk about teenage depression.
Ivanna is a young, well-rounded counselling psychologist. She is passionate about community development and seeing people at their absolute best versions. The lead psychologist at Ivanna Therapeutic Services, she offers her counselling services to teens and youths.
Beyond counselling, Ivanna is the founder of Wezadada Foundation, a community-based organization that works towards helping teenage mothers achieve positive life outcomes and reduce the prevalence of teenage pregnancy.
Why are teenagers so difficult to deal with?
Teenagers are going through a lot of developmental changes, physically and emotionally. Therefore, they are generally overwhelmed by the changes they are going through and tend to exhibit behaviours the rest of the population may not understand or may find destructive. In addition, teenagehood is the bridge between childhood and adulthood. This transition is marked by stages of self-discovery and finding a place to belong. How teenagers are dealing with these changes may be interpreted to be confusion, rebellion, and stubbornness to the outside world.
What drives teens to stress?
The fact that the people around them do not seem to understand their internal struggle or listen to and answer their questions.
What would you say are the main causes of teenage depression?
I’d say the inability of a teenager to communicate and express their feelings. Trauma from childhood, such as sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, is another trigger for teenage depression. Other causes include strained family dynamics, lack of sense of belonging, family genetics, long-term bullying, undetected learning problems, or cognitive difficulties.
Are there particular signs that parents or guardians should look out for?
Yes, there are a number of signs. Major ones among teens will include:
- Withdrawal, which is characterized by excluding themselves from activities they loved before.
- Isolation, which is characterized by staying away from friends and family members with whom they previously interacted with.
- A significant change in behaviour, for example, a jovial and talkative child becomes quiet and withdrawn and vice versa.
- An easily irritable child is also a danger sign to look out for. This can be exhibited by sudden mood swings and tantrums or physically aggressive behaviour.
The key thing is to know your child’s natural disposition and look out for any significant changes.
What are some tips that can help teenagers cope better?
If you are a caregiver or guardian to a teenager, allow them to ask questions and express their emotions without judgment. Have a discussion where you lightly guide them by finding out what they know by asking open-ended questions. Generally, they don’t internalize lectures and blind instruction.
In addition, teenagers should have journals where they express their feelings, express gratitude, and continually affirm themselves. They should learn and research about self-love from an early age and practice it. Teenagers need to engage in physical activities to release energy generated from the hormonal changes they are experiencing.
It is important to keep track and take care of your mental wellness as a teenager or even as a caregiver to a teenager. Always do something that makes you happy each day. Finally, teenagers need a support system– that is; relatives, mentors, peers, alternative mother and father figures to offer guidance. This will help them have a sounding board for their fears, worries, and life questions.
What can parents do to help teenagers cope with expectations and pressure from society?
Parents should have candid conversations with their teenage children to ensure they are the first source of sensitive information for topics such as sexual intercourse, relationships, and communication skills. As a parent or guardian, if you don’t do it, your teenager will learn from peers and social media, and they may be misinformed. As a parent, you need to be comfortable discussing sensitive topics with your children because someone else will do it for you, and you’ll have no control. It is also important to psycho-educate your children clearly on right and wrong. Avoid sugarcoating or renaming sensitive words. Out here, they will hear them as they are. Teach them to be bold in right and wrong.
It is very important to give your teenager an open safe space where they can come and talk to you without judgment. This will provide you with insight into what your teenager is dealing with daily and have a better grounding to psycho-educate them or approach different topics.
As a guardian or a parent of a teenager, know that lectures, shouting, and beating rarely work. It is best to approach a teenager after calming yourself. Have a strategy and create a basis of friendship and trust to get into their inner world. This does not mean you forget your role as a parent but lessen the authority and be more of a friend. The formative years under 12 are the times to be strict and teach foundational skills.
Are there specific initiatives that schools can take to create a safe space for students to share their frustrations?
Schools should have a school counsellor. It is an important addition to non-teaching staff. Counselling helps children integrate their personal life and school life for maximum benefit and results.
It is equally important to train teachers on mental wellness and involve them in creating a safe space for students to share. In addition, teachers need to be trained on effective behaviour management to enable proper handling of students and avoid further mental problems in schools.
It is also good to have mental health games included in school activities such as assembly, physical education, meetings, facilitation sessions, and training. In addition, teenagers need to engage in extracurricular activities and have ample time to engage. Initiating a peer support club would also help the student population take mental wellness seriously and work on it amongst themselves. With these, we will be more able to handle teenage depression.
Following the KCSE exams, some teenagers are on the verge of giving up due to their performance. What can you tell them?
Grades may be important but they do not define your life trajectory and success. Remember, your results are yours, and you need to work on what you have. Stop looking at what you wish you had. Focus on what solution you want to solve in this country or world. Is it a service or a product? Where does your passion lie? What do people say you are good at? What do you enjoy doing the most? In the answers to these questions lies what brought you to this earth. Rather than focusing on grades and letting them limit you, start offering yourself to the community. You can volunteer in a sector you find interesting; health care, community work, marketing industry, etc.
Do not stay idle thinking about what has already happened. Be excited that the next chapter of your life has begun, and get yourself out there. Remember to do everything with dedication and zeal. That is what will set you apart from the rest in this competitive age. Be the best you can be, and you will realize your grade is just but a stepping stone.
How can people reach you?
You can call me directly at +254 705 240910. I also share tips on mental health and personal development on my Facebook page.
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