In a recent Twitter Spaces chat, area teens had questions about managing depression and anxiety with age — and Vanderbilt’s mental health experts had answers.
A recent Twitter Spaces chat between members of the Boys & Girls Club of Middle Tennessee and experts from Vanderbilt Health unearthed deep questions from teens about mental health — and teen-friendly answers from Vanderbilt physicians and researchers. In this three part-series on My Southern Health, we’re sharing some of the best takeaways from that conversation to help teens who may be struggling with their own mental health — or who may be trying to help a friend in need. In this part, a Vanderbilt expert explain whether conditions like anxiety and depression can go away on their own, when to seek treatment and how to manage your mental health as you age.
The question: Does depression go away? If I have a mental health disorder, is it a lifelong condition or something that I’ll recover from?
Expert advice: Understand what it means to have an anxiety or depression disorder.
“There are lots of things that we experience every day: grief, sadness, even really unusual experiences like seeing things and hearing things,” said Dr. Meg Benningfield, Division Director for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for Vanderbilt. “Feeling anxious and down are really common experiences. But the way we think about whether something like anxiety is a normal part of life, especially in a context like the pandemic, and when it becomes a disorder is really interesting. Anxiety becomes a disorder when it impacts our ability to function, and gets in the way of doing the things you want and need to do.”
Expert advice: Mental health disorders are health disorders — and they can be treated.
“Most anxiety disorders are chronic conditions that people manage throughout their whole life —they’re not really so different from diabetes or high blood pressure or other kinds of medical conditions,” said Benningfield. “The good news is we have really good treatments that can decrease the impact of these disorders and help people to lead really full and engaging and successful lives, even if they have an underlying mental health disorder.”
Expert advice: Know your family background.
“This doesn’t mean that there’s no hope. What it means is there is a lot of opportunity to engage early and practice healthy habits that promote better mental health.”
“Psychiatric illness, or mental illness and mental health runs in families,” Benningfield said. “And there’s both a genetic component to that as well as an environmental component. Therefore, having a parent with a mental illness generates some risk. And we know that that’s partly about kind of the ways that parents are engaging with children as their brains are developing, but it’s also the genetics related to vulnerability for those illnesses.”
“The most important thing I think for families to know is that this doesn’t mean that there’s no hope,” Benningfield continued. “What it means is there is a lot of opportunity to engage early and practice healthy habits that promote better mental health, just like we focus on our nutrition and diet.”
Vanderbilt Health DNA
The current season of the Vanderbilt Health DNA: Discoveries in Action podcast explores how the current watershed era of change impacts our mental and physical wellbeing. Episodes so far in Season 3 have covered new pathways for suicide prevention, childhood anxiety and more.