‘It’s OK to ask for help’

Health / anxiety

Teens need not ‘soldier on’

By Katherine Shine

Teenagers are anxious by nature. Bodies and brains are maturing rapidly. Pressure comes from everywhere: academics, culture, parents, peers, sports and not surprisingly, from themselves. Some mild anxiety is part of being human. But for 5 to 20 percent of the population, including teens, anxiety can be so intense that it seriously interferes with life and work.


On Nov. 18, Dr. Susan Jenkins of Bluestem Center in Rochester spoke at a presentation sponsored by Mayo High School’s PTSA and Olmsted County Public Health on adolescent anxiety disorders — what families need to know. Seven students from Mayo’s Teens Offering Peer Support (TOPS) shared the stage with Jenkins, performing skits illustrating anxiety disorders and how families and teens can cope.

According to Jenkins, anxiety in its more severe forms is misunderstood because people keep symptoms and feelings to themselves. "I call this ‘soldier on.’ They put on a good face and just march through their day," she said. "Teens with this type of anxiety would like to be rid of it, but telling them to snap out of it and just face their fears doesn’t work for them. They can’t control how they feel and how their bodies react. It’s important for people with anxiety to understand the physical side of the illness."

In one skit, a student complains of sickness to her family on the very day she is due to give a speech in class. She feels dizzy, has a headache, is shaky and thinks she’s going crazy. In a skit called "Assault on the Psyche Awards," students act out severe forms of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic attacks, social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Mayo principal Tim Dorway believes the pressure on today’s teens to be successful often comes at great cost to their psyches. The good news is "We have amazing resources at Mayo for our students — our health instructors, counseling staff, conflict mediation program and our advisory program," he said. "It’s important for kids to know that it’s OK to ask for help, that this is not a sign of weakness."

Kristi Anderson, Mayo health instructor, added, "Teens need to know their limits and understand that more things or activities don’t define them as more intelligent or better people."

Anxiety has a hereditary factor and often runs in families. Anxious teenagers need acceptance from those closest to them.

Treatment for anxiety may include talk therapy, relaxation and deep-breathing techniques, and forms of exercise like yoga. Medication is not always needed, and when it is prescribed, it’s not always for a lifetime.

Southeast Minnesota has many resources and compassionate people trained to help. "Mental health is a top health care need for adolescents," Public Health Nurse Janis Lueth said. "I would like to see the focus more on prevention with problems dealt with earlier before they turn into something larger."


Katherine Shine is a Rochester freelance writer.

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Self-test for teens

Answer Yes or No to each question.

Are you troubled by?

• Unexpected "attacks" during which you feel an intense fear or panic.

• Persistent, inappropriate thoughts, impulses, or images.

• Fear of social situations and being judged by peers or adults.


• Excessive worrying about events and activities.

• Too much time spent in repetitive activities like hand washing or checking things.

• Feeling restless or easily distracted.

• Excessive sadness or depression.

• Feeling worthless or guilty.

• Changes in eating habits, weight, or sleeping patterns.

• Anxiety that interferes with your daily life.

If you answer yes to any of these questions, seek help from parents, guidance counselor, teacher or your family doctor.


Local resources

• Bluestem Center: (507) 282-1009,

• NAMI Southeast Minnesota: (507) 287-1692,

• Olmsted County Public Health: (507) 328-7500

• Transitions: Therapy, Assessment, Mediation: (507) 288-5818

• Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center: (507) 289-2098,

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