Kids in UAE, get active to be happy


‘Half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14’

Not being alarmists, but experts say there is an epidemic of poor mental health and teenagers are most vulnerable.

This is because preteen and teenage years can be challenging for the young since it is not only their bodies that are changing, their hormones and emotions are also fluctuating, and anxiety becomes a part of their lives.

“Half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14, and most cases remain undetected and untreated for approximately eight to 10 years due to stigma and sheer lack of awareness,” observed Farah Dahabi, clinical social worker at LightHouse Arabia.

“Depression is the leading cause of illness and disability among teens, according to US-based National Institute of Mental Health,” she added.

On a brighter note, she and other experts who talked to Khaleej Times said being physically active is positively linked to good mental health. Studies show that teens engaged in sports or physical activities are less likely to become depressed.

Dr Rommel Sergio, associate professor of psychology and management at Canadian University Dubai, said physical health and mental welfare are intertwined.

Take for example when people say that they no longer feel sad after taking a long walk or hitting the gym.

“Physical exercise has been scientifically proven to promote endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, which are happiness hormones that activate positivity, good thoughts and happy feelings,” Sergio explained.

Moreover, sweating it out not only combats depression but also provides social support and a sense of connection that are essential for one’s well-being, particularly when someone is involved in team sports.

“While physical exercise is positively linked to good mental health, playing team sports has even more significant added health benefits,” said Dahabi.

“For teens, team sports reap all the benefits of physical exercise while building self-esteem, self-confidence, leadership skills and the ability to be a team player. Team sports promote a growth mindset, which is an essential component of resilience for adolescents,” she explained.

“A growth mindset is a deeply held belief that says, with effort and perseverance, anything is achievable. This is the ‘I-can-learn-anything-I-want-to’ as opposed to a fixed mindset, where individuals view their abilities as ‘either I’m good at it, or I’m not’,” Dahabi underlined.

Team sports develop camaraderie, added Roland Crisostomo, director of JK Sports. “By their nature, team sports or structured group activities can nurture social communication, cooperation, integrity and respect for others by following group rules and objectives,” he explained.

Dr Rex Venard Bacarra, dean of general education and professor of philosophy at American College of Dubai, added: “A balance must exist in the school’s curriculum and instructions between academic excellence and emotional and physical well-being.

“In schools, what we lack isn’t more teachers or subjects, but a reexamination of the content of the curriculum that is currently being offered. They have to be assessed whether they have become too result-oriented and career-driven. Anything extreme is unhealthy,” he added.

More importantly, experts say the sooner parents engage their kids in physical activities, regardless of their abilities, the better it will be for their mental health and overall well-being.

Be a team player to shed your depression

> Take a break from academics. Ride a bike, swim, play and compete in any type of sport that suits you

> Engage in fun and relaxing sports

> Eat well and get enough sleep, especially before games.

> When playing team sports, remember: No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistake – it’s part of the game.

> Be quick to forgive mistakes and move on. Respect your team mates as well as your opponents

> Sports are about staying active and making friends

> Have fun, always – whether it is a school intramural or a weekend pick-up game. This way, you can learn how to handle stress, which is part of the competition.