Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and into your senior years.
Over the course of your life, as you transition through milestones and encounter challenges, you may experience unmanageable stress and mental ill-health where your thinking, mood and behaviour could be affected.
Various challenges to your mental health can occur because of:
- Stages of Life – transitioning from a child to teen to adult, developing relationships, becoming a parent and growing older
- Major Life Events – such as losing a job or dealing with a long term-injury
Factor in biological influences (genes or brain chemistry), life experiences (such as trauma and abuse) and any family history of mental health problems and you will understand why there may be times throughout your life when you may need extra support or information to cope.
Navigating Life Changes
Key stages throughout your life and how you manage them can be a major determinant of your mental health.
Here’s a brief look at mental health development at various life stages.
Childhood Years, Birth to Preschool
Good mental health, wellbeing and cognitive development is shaped from the womb and affected by multiple genetic and environmental factors.
Parenting styles, positive and loving communication, healthy attachments, and acceptance can all act as important buffers against stress, enabling babies to self soothe. Parental praise and warmth are associated with children having higher self-esteem, higher social and academic competencies, and reduced likelihood of disruptive behaviour and future substance misuse.
Infants and toddlers facing the highest risks for poor mental health include those whose parents have mental health problems or misuse substances, those who are subject to maltreatment and neglect, and those who live in prolonged poverty.
How parents raise, educate, support, play, talk to, engage and influence children in their formative years has a lasting impact on their mental wellbeing long into adulthood.
Talking, reading, playing, singing, hugs, affection, active listening, eye contact and smiling and spending time in the fresh air with babies and toddlers are all important in shaping thinking, emotional patterns and relationships for life.
Early School Years, Primary to High School
Schools are the biggest single influence on a child’s mental health after their family. Schools can either enhance or undermine a child’s mental health.
The beginning of school is also a time of transition for both parents and children. Children learn a new set of social skills, such as how to get along with others and how to be resilient when they don’t get what they want.
According to the UK Centre for Mental Health, a small percentage (around 8%) of children will likely have a diagnosable mental health problem at this stage. The most common reported difficulty is conduct disorder, with boys twice as likely as girls to have a diagnosable mental health difficulty.
Studies show that children who are bullied at this stage have a higher prevalence of poor mental health and face a range of other adverse outcomes across their life.
Adolescence and High School
The transition from primary school to high school presents another period of significant change, with a new environment and a new set of expectations.
Teenagers experience a range of strong emotions. Events such as new relationships, studying for exams, starting a new job and figuring out friendship groups can be challenging.
During this time, following puberty, the brain is also going through a critical time of development which affects emotions, decision making, controlling impulses, anticipating consequences of behaviour and the ability to take-in information and understand it, then set goals and plan.
During this time, one child in eight will have one or more mental health conditions at any time. Boys are more likely to present with behavioural problems whereas girls are more likely to have emotional problems.
Self-harm is noted as an issue for this age group, especially among girls, LGBT young people and children with a diagnosable mental health problem.
Young people in this age group generally don’t know where to get help for emotional problems and feel stigma strongly. Many turn to informal sources of support such as friends and family.
Young Adults, 17 to 25 years
This can be an extremely challenging time as you begin to transition into the adult world, deciding what to do when leaving school and either heading to tertiary study or looking for a job.
Leaving school friends, redefining your identity, building new relationships, and enjoying new freedoms can be challenging to negotiate.
The first onset of mental disorders can occur at this time, though studies show that treatment does not typically occur until years later. Up to 75% of adults with a diagnosable mental health problem will have experienced their first symptoms by the age of 24.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in this age group.
Adulthood presents a new set of challenges as major life events occur within this period. Developing long term relationships, heartbreak, getting married, having children, long hours of work, job loss, financial worries, an accident or long-term injury or death can all impact mental health.
According to Beyond Blue, one in six females in this stage will experience depression compared to one in eight men. One in three females will also likely experience an anxiety condition compared to one in five men.
One in eight Australians in this age group is currently experiencing high or very high psychological distress.
However, increasing numbers in this cohort are seeking assistance to help manage their mental health.
Older Adults and Retirement
Age associated health conditions, death of friends or family, retirement from work and transitioning to a different pace of life all present new mental health and wellbeing challenges.
Uncertainty, worry and sadness are common feelings which may arise preventing seniors from enjoying their life.
Older people may experience:
- Frailty and loss of independence
- Grief and loss
- Financial stress
- Changing living arrangements
- Increasing social isolation
It’s important to maintain mental health and wellbeing at this stage, not just so you can get through the day but so you can maintain healthy relationships with others and appreciate life to the fullest.
Get Support Managing Life Changes
If you are having difficulty moving through life’s changes, feeling ‘stuck’ or dealing with the impact of trauma or other events, our psychologists can help.
Consider whether you are happy in your current life stage and whether your choices are helping you manage well.
Contact us today to talk through your situation or book an appointment to find out more about how to manage your mental health and wellbeing in your life stage.