Saturday, 14 April 2007

Self-esteem: part 1 - What is it?

This is the first in a three part series on self-esteem. Often an issue for teenagers in particular, this will help you to learn what it is, and in future posts, I will talk about what you can do about it.

Sarah’s mind wanders as she studies for the test she has in English the next day. “I’m going to fail this test tomorrow,” she thinks. “My mum is right, I don’t have the brains — I’ll never be a writer like I want too.” Upset, she looks down and thinks how fat hers legs are. “Ugh,” she says to herself. “I bet the cheer leading captain won’t even let me try out when she sees how fat I am.”

Tom is studying for the same test as Sarah, and he’s also doesn’t like English. But that’s where the similarity ends. Tom has a different outlook. He’s thinking, “OK, English again, this is going to be tough. Thank goodness I’m doing great in the subject that I really like — math.” And when Tom thinks about the way he looks, it’s also more positive. Although he is short and skinny, Tom is less likely to blame or criticize his body and more likely to think, “I may be skinny, but I can run fast. I’d be a good addition to the school football team.”

Having self-esteem means you really like yourself, both inside and out. It refers both to how you look and what you believe in. This is also called “positive” or “high” self-esteem.

We all have a mental picture of who we are, how we look, what we’re good at, and what our strengths and weaknesses might be. We build up this picture over time, starting when we’re little kids. The term self-image is used to refer to a person’s mental picture of himself or herself. As teens in particular, a lot of our self-image is based on interactions we have with other people and our life experiences. This mental picture (our self-image) contributes to our self-esteem. Sometimes it’s easy to like who you are. You feel great when you pass a test, score a winning goal, or tell a funny story that all your friends laugh at. But how do you feel about yourself when you just said something stupid or fumbled the ball? You sometimes feel dumb or like you let everyone down. You start wishing you were someone else or that you could change how you look. You think you aren’t good in school, on the team or part of the cool crowd. This is “low” or “negative” self-esteem. We often let others tell us how to feel about ourself. From the day you were born, your parents, and later your teachers and friends, have been influencing your decisions. At this point in your life you might find that your friends, TV shows and music videos tell you what to wear and how to look. Music and magazines tell you how to feel and how to act. The good news is you can learn to like yourself or have positive self-esteem. You are the one in control; you can make the difference.

If you follow this series about self-esteem, we will talk about the different problems that can occur that lower our self-esteem, then look at ways of building up a positive self image and improving our self esteem.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Mental health difficulties: What are your warning signs?

Being a teen can be a struggle and it often seems nobody understands. You are under stress to be liked and fit in, get good grades, get along with your parents and your brothers and sisters and to start making important life decisions. You are expected to act like the young adult you are but often aren't given the independence to rule your life. Most of these pressures are unavoidable and it's normal for you to be worried. But if you're: feeling really sad, hopeless or worthless, these could be warning signs that you are not coping and may need to seek some support.

“Mental health” is something that is not talked about enough, because it carries lots of negative idea and feelings with it, but it is becoming more common for everyday people to get help for mental health difficulties like they do medical ones. The problems you are experiencing are real, painful and can be terrible. They can lead to you getting bad grades or failing courses, fallouts and loss of friends, or conflict with your parents and siblings. But the important thing to remember is you are not the only one and you are not alone. Millions of people struggle with mental health difficulties every day and millions recover every day. Some of the signs that may point to you needing to seek help are listed below:

If you are troubled by feeling:

  • angry all the time, crying a lot or overreacting to things;

  • worthless or guilty a lot;

  • anxious or worried a lot more than other teens you know;

  • grief for a long time after a loss or death;

  • extremely fearful or have unexplained fears more than other teens you know;

  • constantly concerned about physical problems or your appearance;

  • frightened that your mind is controlled or is out of control.

If you have experienced big changes, for example:

  • a sudden drop in your grades;

  • lose of interest in things you usually enjoy;

  • unexplained changes in your sleeping or eating patterns;

  • want to be alone all the time and avoid your friends and/or family;

  • can't seem to concentrate and can't get things done;

  • feel that life is too hard to handle or thinking about suicide;

  • hearing voices that cannot be explained.

If you feel held back by:

  • being unable to concentrate and can't make decisions;

  • not being able to sit still or focus your attention;

  • worrying about being harmed, hurting others, or about doing something "bad";

  • feeling like you need to wash, clean things, or perform certain routines dozens of times a day;

  • having thoughts that race almost too fast to follow;

  • having persistent nightmares.

If you start doing things that cause problems, for example:

  • using alcohol or doing other drugs;

  • eating heaps and then forcing yourself to vomiting, abusing laxatives, or taking enemas to avoid putting on weight;

  • diet or doing lots of exercise although you're really thin;.

  • hurting other people, destroying yours or other peoples things, or breaking the law;

  • doing things that are unsafe or that can be life threatening.

If you think that some of this sounds like you, you can find help in lots of ways. A good first place to start is talking to a family member of friend that you trust. Though its not always a good idea to rely on a friend your age, because though they may want to help they may not be up to the pressure. You can discuss your concerns with a teacher you trust, your school counselor or your family doctor, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, social worker, religious counselor or nurse. Choosing to ask for help will be a big hurdle but once you overcome that hurdle the support of people that care will make a world of difference while you head towards that light at the end of the tunnel.

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