When puberty hits, it isn’t unusual for our emotions to suddenly be thrown out of whack. You’ll cry at a video of a puppy dancing, get angry when you lose a pen and laugh at the tiniest of things. You might get upset easily or feel no emotions at all. You might feel a sudden surge in frustration and your actions might be a little more aggressive than ever before. You might go through phases where you are elated and everything is perfect and five minutes later your life is over. Don’t worry, most of the time it’s just your brain going haywire with the dreaded hormones. For most pre-teens, you adjust quickly and learn to control all these new feelings (or for me, bury them in chocolate!)
However, some of us experience puberty a little bit differently. Mental illness, a concept that is often foreign to many and was to me, begins to creep into our life. The problem is, your behaviour is changing so rapidly that it’s hard for us to understand whether something is wrong and we could benefit from a little help or if it’s just teens being teens. It’s normal for us to overreact to minor situations; a fight with a friend may cause you to feel overwhelmingly sad. Failing a test could reduce you to tears or even not having the perfect outfit for that party at the weekend could fill you with crippling nerves. That’s alright! It’s fine to be overwhelmed with frustration or fear, exhaustion or exhilaration but these episodes shouldn’t last any longer than 2-3 days.
For me, depression and anxiety played a big part in growing up but they creeped up on a blissfully unaware 12 year old. I knew I didn’t feel quite right but I didn’t think anything of it. The truth was I’d feel completely low for days on end with no seemingly plausible explanation. I’d be awake until 5am because I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. The most minor of exams filled me with consuming nerves that physically paralysed me with fear. I couldn’t concentrate in lessons and sleep had become a treat rather than a necessity. My relationships with my friends rapidly began to deteriorate because I wasn’t putting in the effort because I had no motivation for anything. Nothing made me feel happy anymore. Yet, I still didn’t think anything of it. I just assumed everyone felt that way and it would disappear at some stage or another. As I write this, I want to say that at almost 19 years old I am finally receiving the treatment I needed years ago. I just wasn’t really aware of it.
So, your body and brain are changing and that’s normal. But sometimes there’s signs that it isn’t the ordinary changes we’re experiencing. I’ve listed a few below that myself, or other friends who suffer with mental health, noticed in themselves to help you identify what’s really going on;
Please remember that ticking a few of these boxes does not mean that you will have a mental illness, it could be a variety of things or it could just be becoming a teenager. However, if it’s worrying you please talk to someone. Whether it is a friend, a parent, a teacher, a nurse, a guidance/pastoral teacher, a counsellor or your GP, it is always better to ask. It means you can get the help to get better quicker and then go on to enjoy all the wonderful things that come with growing up!
Finally, if you are diagnosed with any mental illness, I just hope you know that that doesn’t make you weird, or crazy or strange or dangerous. 1 in 4 of us will experience some form of mental health problems in our life and 3 children per classroom are estimated to be diagnosed. You are not alone and you do not need to be ashamed. You are not your illness. You are you and that’s what counts.
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