Teens and Mental Health: Is It Just Attitude or Something More?
The teen years are a tumultuous time for both children and parents alike. Hormones are fluctuating, personal relationships are changing, responsibilities are increasing, and stress has suddenly become a factor in their lives. As they deal with all of the changes in their body and try to figure out exactly who they are, there can be shifts in attitude, defiance, rebelliousness, mood swings, and a general change in demeanor.
However, some of these signs can also be an indicator of a mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. The teen years are often when mental illnesses begin to appear. If issues can be caught early, treatment can help improve the overall quality of life as teens move into adulthood. Parents need to keep a close eye on their teens as they grow and develop to make sure that these issues aren’t going deeper than simple teen angst and moodiness.
If you suspect that your teen is struggling with mental illness, it is imperative that you reach out for help as soon as possible to begin treatment and help get the situation under better control.
When Should You Be Concerned
One of the most important things to remember when trying to determine if your teen is exhibiting disturbing behavior or is just being typically moody and attitude-y is to trust your instincts. No one knows your child like you do. If your gut is telling you that something might be wrong, it’s probably worth getting a professional opinion.
Signs to watch for:
- Extreme changes in mood that are not influenced by external circumstances
- Sudden, unfounded fear or paranoia
- Sudden and severe downturn in grades
- Negative change in personal care habits, eating or sleeping
- Sudden fixation on death and dying
- Loss of interest in friends and activities
- Abnormal defiant, destructive, or self-destructive behavior, including self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, and risky sexual behavior
- Secretive and deceptive actions
These are just some of the symptoms that can indicate a deeper issue. If you have any suspicion that your teen’s behavior could indicate a problem, be sure to check with your pediatrician or family physician as soon as possible.
How to Help if You Suspect Your Teen Has a Mental Illness
First, and most important: If you feel your child is in an emergent situation and at risk of harming themselves or others, seek help from a mental health professional immediately. Serious concern about physical harm should never be ignored.
Do your best to talk with your teen about the signs that you have noticed in an open and non-accusatory way. Let them talk about their feelings and take care to really listen. Show concern and empathy and don’t dismiss their feelings or try to talk them out of depression or anxiety. This will only cause them to be defensive or to hide their feelings in an attempt to appease you.
Reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in your home. Have candid conversations about depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and addiction. Reassure your child that it is okay to experience these feelings and that there are ways to cope with and treat these issues.
Contact your pediatrician or family physician to get advice on next steps and to request a referral to a mental health professional if you or they think that further investigation of your child’s thoughts and behavior patterns is necessary. Depending on specific symptoms, this process may start with therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists.
Above all, be supportive and accepting throughout the process. If medications are prescribed, monitor that they are being taken. Consider family counseling so that you can all work together to help your child be healthier. Mental illness can be frightening for everyone, but with early intervention and proper treatment, positive outcomes are within reach.