Mental health and wellbeing- they are things that affect everyone throughout the entirety of their life, from birth and the subsequent infancy and ‘toddlerhood’ period, right the way through to older adulthood and, ultimately, death. The experiences we have in these different life stages can influence our mental health and wellbeing, either positively or negatively, depending on our outlook and choice of dealing with the experiences we face.
In infancy and toddlerhood, one of, if not the biggest development that we experience is our acquisition of language skills (our ability to speak.) This is, of course, a positive development to occur, however there are some children who develop their language skills later than other children their age (sometimes a symptom of ASD- autism spectrum disorder), and this can cause their mental health and wellbeing to suffer as a result (both in the short-term and the long-term.) Why? Well, in the short-term, they might feel frustrated at being unable to verbalise their emotions. This frustration can sometimes lead to the development of ‘Conduct’ disorders (disorders characterised by disruptive behaviour), which tend to co-exist alongside ADHD. In the long-term, if children are deemed to be of lesser intelligence than their peers, they might feel as though they are somehow ‘lacking’, thus causing their self-esteem to suffer.
Such a feeling of ‘lacking’ can often be present in the next life stage, too, as toddlerhood merges into childhood, and with that, comes the challenge of starting school, where children will learn to read, write, and develop their social skills. Cases of Autism and behaviour disorders become more apparent in this life stage as difficulties tend to become more noticeable in a school environment. Another difficulty that becomes more apparent when children start school is that relating to anxiety, specifically separation anxiety, as many children will be leaving their parents for what is, probably, the first time in their lives.
After childhood comes Adolescence which is, arguably, the most challenging of all life stages. In Adolescence, the entering of puberty signifies the end of childhood, and this can bring up lots of emotions for young people, particularly because puberty is out of their control (something that teenagers often relish in.) Combined with a desperate search for a sense of identity and independence before they enter adulthood, which is already looming scarily ahead of them, it’s no surprise then, that this is the life stage in which most people have their first experience of mental ill health (most commonly Depression, Anxiety and/or eating disorders.)
The difficulty surrounding identity and ‘fitting in’ with peers can exasperate feelings of insecurity and unease in teenagers, hence why mental health illnesses are an all-too-common narrative to be found in this life stage. Taking eating disorders as an example, at a time when teenagers are going through puberty, something which is completely out of their control, they might choose to hyper-focus on food and their body as these are aspects of their life that can be controlled. Furthermore, the pressure that many teenagers feel, both girls and boys, can cause them to experience body image issues, something else that can trigger eating disorders, as well as other mental health conditions, such as Depression and Anxiety (as just two examples.) Such mental health problems can also lead to self-harm taking place and, in extreme cases, suicide.
The next life stage is early adulthood, and this is often characterised by one leaving home, pursuing higher education, and deciding on a career. Again, this can be a challenging time fraught with confusion regarding one’s identity and purpose. The same mental health conditions often experienced in Adolescence (Depression, Anxiety, Eating Disorders, etc), are often experienced in early adulthood, too, as the same concerns with identity are usually still lingering in this life stage…
Other major changes to occur in early adulthood are related to starting a family. People in this life stage might decide to ‘settle down’ with their partner as they have children and parent those young children together. A difficulty that can occur here, however, can be seen in post-natal depression, for example, a mental illness that affects between 10 to 15 in every 100 pregnant women.
Following on from early adulthood is middle adulthood. If one has already had children, they will most likely be parenting adolescents in this life stage and will, eventually, be parenting adult children who are preparing to leave home. This can bring up lots of difficult feelings, as the prospect of their children no longer needing them ‘hits home.’ Such difficult feelings can cause one to question their purpose. This situation is sometimes referred to as ‘empty nest syndrome.’
Another challenge that often occurs in middle adulthood is caring for elderly parents which is, again, something that can bring up difficult feelings, particularly about what the future holds.
Furthermore, in women, mid-adulthood also marks the start of the menopause, a natural part of ageing that is characterised by the termination of one’s periods. Although some women will go through the menopause with very few symptoms, some women won’t be so fortunate, with them experiencing extreme symptoms which can cause their mental health to suffer. A commonly reported symptom of the menopause is feelings of prolonged sadness, a symptom that could trigger a diagnosis of Depression.
The final life stage, older adulthood, is one that most people associate with ‘peace’ and ‘relaxation.’ It is important to note, however, that one’s mental health and wellbeing can be both positively and negatively impacted in this life stage (as it is in every other life stage.)
Older adulthood might see one becoming a grandparent (a positive experience for most), but it might also see one facing negative experiences too, such as coping with illness (whether that be in themselves or their loved ones), retiring and, ultimately, coming to terms with the, often scary, prospect of death (again, both the prospect of it happening to themselves and their loved ones.)
The above negative experiences that people can face in older adulthood can all cause feelings of loneliness and isolation to develop and, subsequently, Depression. Therefore, again, this can be a tricky life stage for people to navigate, particularly since older adulthood is likely to bring with it physical health issues which, as we know, will also have an impact on our mental health, since our physical and mental health are very much connected to each other.
People in older adulthood might also experience Depression if they feel unaccomplished in terms of what they have achieved in their life. They might look back with regrets, with this being something that would undoubtedly play on their mind and cause their mental health to suffer as a result.
It is therefore evident that mental health and wellbeing is something that we need to prioritise throughout our whole life. We will not get to a certain age and suddenly feel amazing, never having to deal with difficult thoughts again, and therefore our mental health, like our physical health, is something that we need to constantly work on, to ensure that it remains as healthy as it possibly can.