In the United States, behavioural health crisis’s – a term referring to both mental and substance use disorders – have been on the rise for more than two decades, with significant numbers coming from the youth! Between 2009 and 2020, the United States saw a 30 percent increase in the national age-adjusted suicide rate. By the winter of 2021, the weekly rate of ER visits by teenagers who attempted suicide was 39 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels, and the average rate for adolescent girls had increased 50 percent over the previous year.

“In the past month, we have treated far too many families who have lost a loved one to suicide and a handful of failed suicide attempt clients,” says Kerry Rudman, from Brain Harmonics, a Neurofeedback organisation specialising in retraining brains. “The number of clients that we are seeing post covid who are experiencing depression and anxiety has risen substantially and more alarmingly, the significant increase of suicidal kids and teenagers is of grave concern. Many of the teenagers that we are helping, find it very difficult to express their feelings and emotions to their parents, which makes neurofeedback a great alternative as they don’t have to talk about what they are experiencing when we rebalance their brains.”

Mental Health is not just a term that is simply thrown around as the latest trend – it is a very real phenomenon! In the 15 – 24 age group, suicide is the second leading and fastest growing cause of death in South Africa. If we think of the brain as an energy economy, it becomes easier to understand the devastating impact that continual stress and anxiety have on not only the brain, but the body as a whole.

‘’Tens of billions of your brain cells transform oxygen and glucose from your blood into pulses of electricity up to 40 times each second. Your brain, which is less than 5% of your weight, uses 25% of the oxygen and nearly 50% of the blood sugar in your whole body,’’ explains Rudman. “This, one of the most complex systems in the whole universe that you carry on your shoulders day in and day out, is a glutton for energy. It’s no surprise that the most effective brains studied are the ones which don’t waste energy.’’

In order to help your brain perform at its best, reducing the stress response is a good place to start. Few activities are as costly, and energy consuming, as shifting into the fight or flight crisis mode. While some people are able to only shift into fight or flight when a real threat occurs, for many others, their brains remain in a constant state of fight or flight due to multiple perceived stressors – i.e. those things they are not able to control.

“Stress is an internal response to things we are not able to control, for whatever reason,” says Rudman. “Those people who are constantly in a stressed state are said to be struggling with anxiety. Unlike a healthy stress response, anxiety makes the brain less able to respond to danger or to perform ordinary functions. Resources meant to maintain your brain and body are all off at war fighting multiple fronts against unknown enemies, leaving your brain burnt out and unable to supply your body with the energy it requires to live, this is when depression set it. Depression then leads to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and racing minds, to mention a few, which then also severely affect your quality of sleep, leading to further exhaustion and anxiety!”

Some warning signs to look out for in teens who are possibly contemplating suicide are:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and family members
  • Acting out behaviors and running away
  • Alcohol and drugs use
  • Neglecting their personal appearance
  • Unnecessary risk taking
  • Obsession with death and dying

Unlike other forms of therapy – medication and talk therapy – Neurofeedback sessions allow the brain to discover new pathways and more efficient ways of working to regulate the body and mind back into harmony. The client does not have to relive the traumas or emotions that they have experienced or struggle with the complicated side effects from various medications.

By Amanda Mkhize


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