Your Questions Answered About Teen Health
It’s difficult being a teen, constantly going through changes, trying to find who you are in life and sometimes just feeling like you don’t know where you fit in the world. Three in four mental health illnesses start in childhood and 75% of young people with a mental health problem are not receiving treatment. Aside from mental health, there are of course a multitude of other challenges our teens face including the growing usage and reliance on social media, not enough sleep or exercise, a poor diet and an inordinate amount of stress. We asked Dr Di Cuffa some of the top health questions posed by teenagers.
Q. I’m feeling permanently drained and worrying I’m not getting enough sleep. How many hours sleep should I actually have nightly?
Research suggests that teenagers on average should have around 9½ hours sleep per night to feel the very best version of themselves and to perform to the best of their ability but worryingly, most teenagers actually sleep for 7 hours on average per night. Having a good bedtime routine winding down, without social media and blue light, and going to bed at around the same time every night are key to sleeping well. Avoid caffeine including coke, chocolate or cups of tea at least two hours before you plan on going to sleep. I would also avoid oversleeping during the weekends, so although I know it’s hard, try your best not to lie in!
Q. I want to discuss sexual health with you, but really don’t want my parents finding out!
When it comes to sexual health in the UK, teenagers from the age of 13 have the same rights as an adult and therefore, no one in the health sector will discuss anything with your parents as long as they are of the impression that you fully understand the advice given and you are not putting yourself in any danger. Of course, we urge all our younger patients to have a relationship where they can talk to their parents, but at the same time, we completely understand that some things you may prefer to keep private. Always seek medical advice if there is something concerning you.
Q. I’m feeling really low at the moment. It’s getting so bad that I’m missing days of school because I just don’t want to leave the house. I feel like I need to talk to someone about my mental health but it’s embarrassing! I just don’t think anyone’s going to take me seriously.
Mental health problems are common amongst teenagers, so please don’t feel like you’re on your own. 1 in 5 young people suffer from a mental illness and its really important to speak to someone about the things that are concerning you or making you feel depressed or anxious. You don’t need to ever feel embarrassed. If you have a friend or family member you feel you may be able to open up to, then I would encourage you to try speaking to them. Talking about how you feel is key to reducing anxiety. Try to also make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well and getting some regular exercise. Devote time every week to doing activities that make you feel happy.
Q. This boy at school keeps calling me names and making fun of me in front of everyone in class. It’s really starting to get me down, but I’m worried about telling the school.
45% of young people experience bullying before the age of 18 so you are not alone. This is not your fault, no one ever deserves to feel bullied. Try and keep calm when the bully next approaches you and try to ignore them – they want a reaction. I know it may feel daunting but alerting your school and your family about this is a good idea. Do you have a favourite teacher? Or someone at school that you think understands you best? If so, I would suggest speaking to them about it first.
Q. My mum always says spending too much time on my phone, iPad or in front of the TV is bad for me but is this actually true?
Yes, your mum is quite right. An excess of anything is usually not going to be good for you. Spending too much time in front of screens is bad for your eyes, as you are straining them when looking at your phone etc. Using social media platforms on these devices can also have a negative effect on your health including your brain and attention span. Studies have shown that our attention span has now been shortened from 12 minutes to 5 minutes. Of course, technology isn’t all that bad! Just try your best not to be an excessive user and don’t use it for at least an hour before bed.
To make an appointment to discuss your concerns with one of our GPs, contact us on 0330 088 2020.