August 19, 2019 by Peter B. Laird
Mental Health Takes Center Stage at Grammys
Lady Gaga used her wins at this year’s Grammy Awards to shine light on mental health, continuing to use her notoriety as a platform to spread awareness about emotional and psychological issues that affect millions of adults and children.
“I’m so proud to be part of a movie that addresses mental health issues,” said the popstar and nine-time Grammy winner during her award acceptance speech.
It is not the first time Gaga has spoken openly about mental health in an effort to raise awareness and lessen stigma. She’s shared publicly her struggles with “debilitating mental spirals” during which she said she’s experienced panic attacks and physical pain. In A Star is Born, the movie that features her Grammy-winning song, Gaga portrays a rising star whose mentor is battling severe depression and substance abuse.
Depression in Teens Rises Dramatically
While mental health conditions affect people of all ages, messages by celebrities about depression in particular may ring especially true with adolescents and teenagers. The number of children ages 12 to 17 diagnosed with depression between 2013 and 2016 increased 63 percent, meaning the depressant rate represents 2.6 percent of all teens in the U.S., according to research by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
And the number young children who die by suicide – although still rare among children younger than 12 – has unfortunately also increased. The number of children between 10 and 14 years old who died by suicide between 1999 and 2016 increased 71 percent, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before they died, several of those youth had reported being bullied.
Despite decreasing incidents of bullying – the percentage of students reporting being bullied at school during the school year dropped from 28 to 21 percent between 2005 and 2015 according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics – about 7 percent of high school students who are bullied attempt suicide.
But for those teens and young children who die by suicide, being bullied is usually not the only reason that drives them to take their own lives. Many of these youth have underlying, undiagnosed depression or anxiety and other life circumstances that cause conflict and angst, psychology experts say.
“Kids have a lot of stressors put on them these days to perform well in school and extracurricular activities, as well as the pressure and presence of social media,” said Grace Jimenez, psychotherapist with Care & Counseling at Baptist Health South Florida. “A lot of activity can be beneficial and some social media useful, but they also increase stress and leave less time for the rest that kids need to do well and be healthy. The repercussion is we have kids who are overly stressed and anxious, and that’s when depression starts to come in.”
How Anxiety and Depression Affects Health
The impact of poor mental health often extends beyond psychological conditions. Researchers have found strong links between depression and anxiety sufferers and common conditions such as headache, back pain and upset stomach.
People suffering from anxiety and depression can also be at higher risk for developing heart disease. One recent study found of 15,000 older adults who were studied over four years, 50 percent were at greater risk for high blood pressure, 65 percent had increased risk of a heart condition and 64 percent were at higher risk for stroke. Factors leading to the increased risks included high levels of anxiety and depression, being obese and smoking, the researchers said.
Treatment for Anxiety and Depression
Sometimes treating anxiety and depression in people of certain ages can be challenging. Baby boomers, for example, are at significant risk of becoming dependent on anti-anxiety medications, like Valium or Xanax. Intended to help calm anxiety or help with sleep, many older adults are taking the drugs for too long, according to recent research published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. One in four adults in retirement age are taking an anti-anxiety medication, which can have sedation, dizziness, weakness and unsteadiness as side effects.
Despite side effects some treatment may cause, seeking help for a mental health issue when it starts to interfere with daily life is the key to overcoming it, doctors say.
“When someone can’t go to work because of panic attacks, you have to do something about the anxiety that person is having,” said Rachel Rohaidy, M.D., a psychiatrist with Care & Counseling at Baptist Health South Florida. “There are some points when medications are necessary. For anxiety, small doses of benzodiazepines can help. There’s a place for them.”
Treating depression in children is a lot about getting them to open up and talk about what they’re feeling. Parents can help by employing “play therapy” – getting the child active – by taking them outside, going for a walk, or playing a board or video game – anything that gets them moving.
“A lot of time adults think getting a kid active means going to the gym, running or another organized activity. But sometimes it’s easier and better to just play,” Ms. Jimenez says. “As long as you’re with them having fun, they’re just as excited to share with you the things they’re doing and feeling.”