The term adolescent is defined as those falling in the age group between 10-19 years. In other words this is the period between child and adulthood. Worldwide this figure amounts to 1.2 billion (19% of the population). According to available data in Sri Lanka 19.7% of the total population in the island comprises those who belong to this age group.
The Adolescent population in Sri Lanka in numbers is estimated to be around 3 million during the next few decades. Adolescents are not a homogeneous group. Their needs vary with their sex, stage of development, life circumstances and socioeconomic conditions.
- The Adolescent population in Sri Lanka in numbers is estimated to be around 3 million
- At the age of 15, Myelin has only deposited up to the mid brain
- At the age of 15 adolescents have emotions, but not the higher functions
They belong to a very special age group because they are not children; neither are they adults. It is a transforming stage where their physical, mental, social, hormornal behavioural and sexual changes are noticeably taking place. For this purpose we contacted Dr Heshani Karunathilake who is in-charge of adolescents and Youth Friendly Health Services At the Base Hospital, Panadura.
Development of the human brain
The development of the human brain commences from the back to the front. The process has much to do with Myelin, a chemical substance responsible for the brain’s maturity. At the age of 15, Myelin has only deposited up to the mid brain and it takes 24 years to complete the deposition of this substance in front part of the brain.
The Amygdela responsible for emotions and situated in the mid brain is developed at 15 years of age, but the front brain responsible for higher functions- such as planning, organizing, critical thinking, decision making- are fully myelinated at the age of 24. At the age of 15 adolescents have emotions, but not the higher functions. So they tend to act emotionally rather than think critically.
Handle them carefully
Most of the problems occur with those in this age group due to this reason. Actually it’s merely a problem of their age and we should not blame our children for indulging in immature things. As mature and experienced parents we must handle teenagers very carefully and guide them accordingly; when guidance is needed. Otherwise they would get information from their peers who are in the same position as they.
When we consider the needs of adolescents we have to improve the knowledge of nutrition and reproductive health etc. We should improve their practical and life-skills by creating a supportive environment. A secure home with a peaceful environment is important
In Government hospitals there is a special service offered under the supervision of the Family Health Bureau. It is initiated under the Adolescent and Youth Friendly Health Service and known as ‘Yowun Piyasa’. It mainly addresses the physical, mental, social, behavioural, sexual problems of Adolescents and youth. Counseling services under Adolescent and Youth Friendly Services (AYFHS) are free for anyone and their privacy and confidentiality are highly safeguarded. If the doctor-in-charge of AYFHS can’t handle the problems at hand, these adolescents are referred to the relevant clinics for specialized care. As an example a girl with a teenage pregnancy would be referred to the VOG while a child with a psychiatric problem will be referred to a Psychiatrist.
Parents must listen
When we consider the needs of adolescents we have to improve the knowledge of nutrition and reproductive health etc. We should improve their practical and life-skills by creating a supportive environment. A secure home with a peaceful environment is important and parents must also lend an ear to their children patiently.
20% of deaths due to abortions
The main health problems of adolescents can be intentional and unintentional. This is where injuries are concerned. The declining age associated with menarche and the increased age when marriage takes place lead to the increased fertile period before marriage. In Sri Lanka the premarital sex rate is 2-3% in the 14-16 age group of females and 10-14% in males falling in the age group 14-16. Teenage pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies, which end up in abortions, are also a major problem. Twenty percent of the deaths among adolescents are due to abortions.
22% of schoolgirls are anaemic
Other adolescent health problems are sexual abuse /rape, drug addiction, smoking mental diseases and nutritional problems. In Sri Lanka 22% of school-going girls are anaemic while 2% are obese. AYFHS brings benefits for the individual adolescent. It also brings benefits economically by improving productivity, return on investments with regard to health costs and is also a human right. Obtaining these services is a must if the adolescent is to achieve the highest attainable kind of health.