We sat down with Stonewater’s Medical Director and chief medical officer for the state of Mississippi, Dr. Daniel Edney, to discuss mental health awareness, the biggest challenges adolescents face today in regards to mental health and the importance of parents being proactive about warning signs. Mental health is often defined as one’s psychological or emotional well-being. There are biological factors, life experiences and family history to consider which influence how we think, react to stress, socialize with others and make decisions. Dr. Edney finds, “In terms of the average individual, keeping your physical health as in tune as you can in terms of proper diet and exercise is really the foundation for all health, and that definitely includes mental health. Those who are eating and exercising better and taking care of the rest of their bodies will have healthier brains and typically will have better outlooks on their environment in general.”
Dr. Edney described the importance of people taking the time to understand the role of stress in their life and to develop a game plan to manage it properly. “Most people internalize stress, which will make everything worse. Normally what you’ll see is disrupted sleep patterns, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, which spiral into worsening anxiety or depression issues. It’s important to identify those before they become a major problem – we don’t want stress management issues to become psychiatric issues like major depressive disorder.” As modern society and the pandemic have brought mental and physical health center stage, people must be willing to make adjustments when needed.
According to Dr. Edney, for adolescent mental health, bullying and social media are extremely prevalent and impactful. These things can put immense stress on a young person as they start comparing themselves to others and then buying into a negative self image. Many times young people act on that negative message, potentially using substances, and can develop anxiety, depression and self-harm issues. Substance exposure at a young age is detrimental to mental health and overall brain development, specifically for adolescents. Dr. Edney also added that, in regards to adolescent males specifically, “The adolescent male brain is behind the female brain in development, so substances tend to affect them in a more exaggerated fashion. Testosterone is also kicking in and they don’t always know how to handle the feelings and urges they have.”
Dr. Edney strongly encourages parents to understand these factors and be on guard to protect their children from substance exposure, including very importantly, nicotine. Over the last year, Dr. Edney estimated that more than 95% of Stonewater residents were exposed to nicotine, “the real gateway drug,” at a young age. Additionally, Dr. Edney noted that warning signs of active addiction can include grades dropping unexpectedly, increased and utter isolation, change in hygiene and overall appearance, weight loss and disordered eating. So what can parents do to stay on top of emerging mental health issues? Dr. Edney insisted, “Parents have to be more aware. Be vigilant of what your child is being exposed to in terms of video gaming, pornography, social media, music, etc. These all make adolescents more at risk for substance exposure. Intervene when you see your adolescent is being exposed. If your children have devices, you need to know what’s on those devices. Hold your children accountable for what they’re downloading. Have a thoughtful conversation with your child about what’s considered healthy and unhealthy.”
Often parents feel that attempting to connect with their adolescent is futile or that they are breaking confidentiality by monitoring their child’s internet and phone use; however, it is quite the opposite. These supervisory efforts are in the adolescent’s best interest. As a physician in long-term recovery and a father whose son struggled with mental health and substances during adolescence, Dr. Edney understands how vital it is to educate families and parents on how to identify warning signs of addiction and be proactive with solutions. Dr. Edney emphasized the importance of parents doing their own work and how it is integrated into Stonewater’s family program, “The first 45 days of treatment your child is detoxing and waking up. Parents have things to work on themselves separate from their child during this time, especially because their mental health has been impacted. As their child is feeling better and making better decisions, we can have the family re-engage with one another and allow healing and restoration to occur. This doesn’t happen by itself. It takes work and leadership from our therapists and the family program to lead families into communicating in a healthy fashion again, learn how to appropriately demonstrate love and put healthy boundaries in place, as well as enforce the boundaries.”
For information on Stonewater’s dual-diagnosis residential treatment program, call us today at 662.373.2828 or contact us online.