Young people a major risk group, warn experts | Sunday Observer

Young people a major risk group, warn experts

The rate of suicides in young people between the ages of 15-19 is increasing in Sri Lanka, a result of substance abuse and subsequent mental health issues, experts said last week.

Addressing a media conference at the Health Promotion Bureau in Colombo, Director, Mental Health, Dr Chitramalee De Silva said, young people were especially prone to drug and alcohol addiction, and since the brain develops until 25 years of age, substance abuse in adolescence and young adulthood can be severely harmful to the brain.

Dr De Silva pointed to narcotics use, lack of sleep and the tendency to sleep late on the part of young people as contributing factors to poor mental health.

“Most people suffer from mental health illnesses at some point in their lives. In such a background, it is mandatory to treat mental illness with the same respect we show physical illness and take proper preventative action,” the Mental Health Director noted.

Young people go through many physical and psychological changes in adolescence and the heavy screen time including heavy usage of mobile phones, computer and television could also have an adverse impact on mental health, the Director explained . “Lack of leisure time, failure to engage in physical activity are also contributing factors to increase mental illness among the young,” she added.

She emphasized that adults must take responsibility to protect youth from their own actions, since children cannot understand the negative effects and are easily influenced. Parents and guardians should pay close attention to children in order to observe any suffering from mental illness, including depression, Dr De Silva added. “One of the common symptoms is the child complaining about physical illnesses such as, headache and neck pain. In such circumstances it is common to hear a child refusing to attend school, refusing to eat, not being able to sleep, taking time to fall asleep, falling ill all the time and sudden decline of school grades,” the Director explained.

Dr. Ayesha Lokubalasooriya, Consultant Community Physician said, it is important that parents understand that children get involved in dangerous activities due to the conditions in their brain and not because they are inherently bad children. It was only when they reach the age of 20 that human beings develop the ability to think about the consequences of their decisions, Dr Lokubalasooriya noted.

“Children have a need to release their physical energy, and when this does not happen, children turn on each other using violence,” the Consultant explained. Since young people often conclude that the best solution to problems is to commit suicide, Dr Lokubalasoorya added that it was particularly important to pay attention to students who are abnormally silent and calm because normally a mentally stable child is unlikely to behave in such a manner. It was also important that parents encourage social activity among their children in order to give them social experiences and ensure their mental well-being, the Consultant said.

Academic stress could also lead to a breakdown in mental health, the experts noted. Students should experience an activity-based curriculum instead of the academic material-based curriculum that our students experience in the school system. A counseling network should also be established in schools to identify students suffering mental instability and refer them to medical experts.

“Through the conduct of such actions mental illnesses can be prevented and lives which can be lost due to suicide can be protected,” Dr Lokubalasooriya explained.

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