“It occurred to me that helping patients treat and manage mental health conditions at an early age could change the course of many lives. At that moment, I was hooked.”
— Kelly Robinson, MSN, APRN, PMHNP-BC
Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatry at Therapeutic Partners
What first attracted you to practicing with adolescents?
Early in my career, a colleague encouraged me to get certified to work with children and adolescents. We discussed the population, their needs, and the ways we could make a difference. It then occurred to me that helping patients treat and manage mental health conditions at an early age could change the course of many lives. At that moment, I was hooked.
How do mental health issues differ between adolescents and adults?
Mental health issues differ in adolescents and adults because the human brain is not completely developed until 25 years of age. The brain develops from back to front leaving the frontal cortex as the last section of the brain to mature. The frontal cortex is responsible for executive functioning, which includes capacity to plan, organize, initiate, self-control, problem solve, memory, emotion, and motor function. Thus, adolescents have an immature frontal cortex which may not always excuse – but at least explains – their behaviors and thought processes. Adolescence includes puberty, which incorporates physical, emotional, and mental changes and is often when the onset mental illnesses occur. Because of this vulnerability, it is crucial for parents, caregivers, and teens to be familiar with signs of mental illness and their presentation in adolescence.
How has the pandemic impacted the mental health of our youth?
The pandemic uncovered mental health signs that were hidden in many youths, while exacerbating symptoms for those with existing disorders and conditions. It caused isolation and limited or shut off communication with friends, family, and acquaintances. It produced educational encounters that challenged self-confidence, learning skills, attention, and maturity. Lastly, it reduced and redefined resources many youths depend on for socialization, learning, recreation, and health care.
Can you name some warning flags to look for around adolescents?
- Increased or Sudden irritability or defiance
- Depressed mood
- Anxiousness/Nervousness (which may display as physical symptoms such as ongoing nausea, upset stomach, chest pains, sweating, increased heartbeats, trouble breathing and jitteriness)
- Isolating from friends and family
- Changes in sleep and appetite
- Giving possessions away
- Statements of self-harm
Contact your family doctor, pediatrician, or a mental health professional if concerned about your teen.
Any tips to help teens or families with teens?
- Communicate feelings and thoughts. Poor communication leads to misunderstandings and can create a snowball effect.
- Listen more. Stop to listen to others to gather information, learn, and effectively communicate.
- Always Assess Attitude. Attitude is everything and can be the difference between a conversation and an ordeal.
- Take breaks from social media and electronic devices. Research shows video games lead to poor social skills, decreased concentration, reading less, obesity, and influence aggressive thoughts and behaviors.
- Get sleep. Sleep is the time your brain stores new information, rids itself of toxins and communicates with your body to repair and restore you.
- Eat healthy. Fuel the brain and the body with foods that provide adequate nutrition to fight medical and mental health conditions.
- Spend time for family and friends. Eat, play, adventure with others. Do not get so busy that you forget to enjoy life.
- Learn or enhance coping skills to manage stress.
- Seek advice when concerned or in need of help. Know support resources and share with teens and families of teens:
- Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Call 800-442-HOPE (4673)
- Text “HELLO” to 741741 (Teencentral.com)
Any ways to use the summer season constructively?
With states easing or eliminating mandates, parents and guardians can help their teens by searching their local area for constructive ideas to add to the summer calendar. Examples include:
Summer camps: Although some summer camps can be expensive, there are affordable or free camps in your area that may interest your teen. Some examples include:
- Your local park and recreational center
- The YMCA
- Places of worship
- The Council for the Arts or City’s Art Association
- The Salvation Army
- STEM programs, especially those hosted by different organizations (i.e., National Society of Black Engineers SEEK program).
Youth programs: Programs and classes given by local schools, parks and recreational centers or businesses can offer exploration into particular interests such as:
- career interests
Exercise: Exercise is a great way to constructively use summertime and get physically fit in the process. Some examples include:
- Planet Fitness’ Teen Summer Challenge where teens ages 15-18 can sign up to work out for free during the summer.
- The YMCA offers student membership rates. Financial assistance may be available to assist students and families with YMCA membership(s) because the YMCA is non-profit organization whose mission is to make membership affordable for everyone so that health can be a priority.
- Your local recreational center for sports, exercise, meditation, or yoga classes.
Volunteering: Volunteering can be an excellent learning tool for developing personal responsibility, altruism and confidence, while keeping them busy during summer months. Some volunteer opportunities include:
- Habitat for Humanity
- The Food Bank/Food Shelters
- The Animal Shelter
- Place of Worship
- Mom/Dad’s place of work or business
- Helping a neighbor
DIY Summer: Constructing your own summer experience can be enjoyable and affordable. Some examples include:
- Exercise: walking or bike riding, bowling, swimming, skating, and exercising at home or in the local park.
- Day trips: zoo, museum, or the library, attending free concerts in the park, playing tourist in your city.
- Home activities: building something (bird house, cat sanctuary, etc.), reading a book (summer reading assignment or pleasure), family game/movie night, starting a garden, or home projects.
- Part-time job or internship