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Mental health problems are becoming more common with minors. Anxiety, depression and panic attacks are the reasons why they seek help from a psychologist, but they also end up in clinical treatment. What we can all help them with is to support them in their struggle and take their problems seriously.

Written by: Vanja Stokić; Photo and video: Ajdin Kamber

For the past two years, Tijana, 18, has had mental health issues. She noticed that she was losing strength, that she was getting tired more and more, and that she often felt sleepy. Her memory was also very bad.

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“This caused problems because it affected my grades and the quality of my learning. I was spending a lot more time at home alone than I did with my friends. In the past my parents couldn’t bring me into the house because I loved to go for a walk. And later it came down to the fact that they couldn’t take me out of the house, because I was simply too anxious “, she begins her story.

She sought help as soon as she noticed changes in herself. Soon talks with a psychologist were no longer enough. There were problems with appetite and thoughts of suicide. A psychiatrist was involved in the treatment.

Panic attacks began, which were quite terrible for me and my family, who had never faced them before. That was the first time I was referred to a psychiatric clinic. My parents didn’t agree with me going there at that time. I completely understand them because they were unfamiliar with all of that”, she recalls.

Soon, however, she went to a clinical treatment because other therapies did not help. She stayed there for only four and a half days, and after leaving, she was given the label “strayed to psychiatry“.

“I can describe my stay at the clinic as the most difficult, but also the most beautiful period in my life. As hard as it was there, to face everything that is there and watch even worse cases than I was … I learned a lot about life. How healthy I actually was. I have learned to be grateful for the freedom I have and the opportunities that are offered to me“, says Tijana.

She feels much better right now. She still has sudden mood swings and severe anxiety, but she has learned to control panic attacks.  She uses her experience to help her peers as well. It was they who gave her the strength to cope with the crises she was going through. Their solidarity came to the fore when one day they formed a human shield around her, so that other children would not see what was happening.

“I sat on a bench in front of the school and felt a panic attack began. Your arms and legs start to shake, your jaw stiffen, your face becomes numb, your hands shake and it’s a pretty scary sight. The problem was that this was the moment when the shift exchange took place. The first shift is going home, the second shift is coming and there were too many kids there, which of course resulted in it further fuelling my panic attack. I had a phone at hand, I only managed to write to my friend to come out”, Tijana recalls.

Her friend held her hands and asked the others to hide her with their bodies from the sight.

Such gestures helped me a lot, because I felt safer, because I knew that I was not alone and that at any moment I have someone who can help me and who will not judge me and who will understand me”, she said.

Mental health is the most common topic

Children and young people can seek help with mental health, as well as all other problems that plague them, by calling the “Blue Phone” counselling line on 080 05 03 05. During the nine years of work, the advisors received 35,000 calls, emails and messages on the line. Most of them came from girls aged 10 to 18. Mental health topics are the most common reason for contact.

“Topics that stand out in the field of mental health are fear and anxiety, depression, suicide, self-harm, loneliness, panic attacks and lack of self-confidence.  During 2021, out of the total number of all counselling calls, 28 percent are related to the topic of mental health, which is three times more than in 2020“, says the coordinator of the line, Maja Kovačević.

As she points out, high school students in most cases recognize that they feel anxious, depressed, or have a panic attack. They notice changes in their behaviour but do not know how to deal with them.

“We talk to children and young people about the social support they have because it is one of our resources. To come up with a solution together with a child. In some cases, children have the opportunity to talk. For example, with teachers, professors, head teachers or professional associates at school. One of the teachers told them earlier that he was there for them, that he wanted to talk to them. They trust such teachers and they will turn to them if they have a problem with mental health“, says Maja Kovačević.

Maja Kovačević; Foto: Ajdin Kamber

On the other hand, some children are afraid to talk to the teaching staff, because they think that the whole school will find out about their problem. There are also frequent situations when parents do not want to admit that a child has a certain problem related to mental health and that he or she needs help.

“Children tell us that parents often say it’s nonsense, they don’t take it seriously. Or they are told that they are children and that the children essentially have no problems. Also, it is very common for children themselves to recognize that they should seek professional help. For example, they want to go to a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, but their parents do not want to take them because they think it is not a serious problem, that it will resolve itself or they are simply afraid of what the neighbours will say”, she says.

It is important that young people have support and understanding in their environment, that they know that they are not alone and that they have someone to turn to for help. If a young person trusts the people around him or her, it will be easier for him or her to decide to seek help.

Distinguish adolescence from disorders

Depression, among other symptoms, is accompanied by sadness, apathy, indifference, suicidal thoughts and feelings of helplessness. Anxiety is dominated by inner tension, uncertainty about one’s life, and constant fear. For students, a school psychologist is one of the potential addresses for seeking help. However, not everyone is ready for that.

“We have students who will try to find information on the Internet, and guess what is happening to them, but they will wait for the situation to pass spontaneously, they will not seek help, they will not even tell their parents about their condition.” Or if the situation does not pass spontaneously, only when the mental strength is exhausted and when our defense mechanisms weaken, when the situation worsens, only then they will tell their parents and seek help. When it becomes so uncomfortable for them”, school psychologist Sanja Mijatović Milaković tells us.

Sanja Mijatović Milaković; Foto: Ajdin Kamber

Mental disorders can sometimes be confused with the changes that young people experience during adolescence. The difference is in the duration and severity of the symptoms.

“Every time we suspect whether it is just adolescence or some mental disorder, we need to think about how our child behaved before. If we notice a certain big and strong change and if the symptoms last for a long time, it is a sign of alarm and a sign that we should look for a conversation with an expert“, explains Sanja Mijatović Milaković.

Teachers to recognize and react

In order to be able to support their student and thus help him or her on his or her path to healing, teachers must first recognize the problem in time. Curricula give them enough space to talk about these topics in homeroom class.

“If we see that a child has been unusual lately, sadly more often, we need to report it, and then the school psychologist will pay attention together with the head teacher. If the child is too happy, if the child is absent … It’s all mental health”, Ivana Mišeljić, a teacher, explains.

She points out that the head teachers have a great honour, but also a responsibility towards their students.

“You have to watch and observe them, because they are in that sensitive age now.  So high school is a way out of puberty into adolescents, where they are disturbed every day by a series of accompanying content. I like to talk about everything with the children in the homeroom class and to emphasize that nothing is shameful. It’s not a shame to have a problem. It is not a shame to talk about that problem“, she points out.

Ivana Milješić; Foto: Ajdin Kamber

When we talk about cooperation with parents, Mišeljić points out that the first steps are always difficult. Few parents will immediately accept that their child has a problem.

“We are the ones who will call them often, so they will refer them to the professional service.” Then a visit to a psychologist, to a pedagogue … And those parents give in, they mostly understand, and then they approach to solving the problem. At first, there are difficulties, but it is possible to cooperate “, she says.

All the children and young people who do not have enough strength and courage to turn to parents or school psychologist for help, can anonymously and free of charge call the “Blue Phone” on 080 05 03 05, to write to counsellors of this line via this link or button in the lower right corner of this site.

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