Adolescence can be difficult time for teens and their families. Youth yearn for independence, but at the same time continue to depend on their parents. As children begin to transition physically, emotionally, and socially, they can often become overwhelmed. In addition, most teens feel added pressures academically and most recently on social media. Unfortunately, the stress of teenage years can lead to a variety of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, panic disorders, mood disorders, or eating disorders.
Nationally, one in six youth aged 6-17 will experience a mental health disorder each year. Half of all mental illnesses will present themselves by age 14, and 75% by the age of 24. (NAMI.org) Even with the awareness of teen mental illness, it’s easy for parents to miss the early warning signs or assume their youth is going through “normal” teenage angst. Communication, early intervention and proper treatment are the keys to helping teens that may be suffering from mental illness.
Parents should be on the lookout for the following red flags that could signal mental illness in a teen:
• Change in sleeping habits, beyond normal teenage fatigue, or the inability to sleep.
• Loss of self-esteem
• Loss of interest in favorite hobbies or pastimes
• Unexplained decline in academic performance
• Sudden change in eating habits and/or appetite
• Sudden changes in personality, increased anger or moodiness
If you suspect your teen may be suffering from mental illness symptoms, it’s important to get help right away. Without proper treatment your teen may try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs or engage in high risk behaviors that are unhealthy. If left untreated, mental health problems may increase the risk of suicide which is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-24. (verywellmind.com)
Communicate openly with your child. Bring your concerns to their attention being careful to assure them they aren’t crazy and the issues they may be having are not their fault. Schedule an appointment with their primary physician to discuss treatment options which may be a combination of regular therapy and possibly medications. In addition to treatment prescribed by your teens doctor, you can continue to support your teen in the home.
• Build your teen’s self-esteem – Give them praise and be specific. Let them know when you are proud of them and spend time with them, so they know how much they are valued.
• Support ways they can build mastery daily - Help them develop skills and participate in things they are good at each day.
• Give them emotional support – Encourage them to communicate and let them know you are there to listen.
• Provide safety and security – Let them know they are loved without judgement.
• Teach them resiliency - Help them identify tools like journaling, meditation, or exercise that can help them navigate difficult emotions.
• Be patient - It often takes time to find the right treatment plan. Encourage your teen to take meds as prescribed, keep all appointments, and give themselves time to see how they respond.
• Support healthy risk taking.
Finally, make sure to take time for yourself. Raising a teen with mental health issues can be difficult for everyone involved. Talk to other parents or find a local support group. With communication, the proper treatment plan and a loving supportive environment, your teen can not only improve, but be healthy, happy and prepared as they head into young adulthood.
Lynn E. Ponton, M.D. – The Romance of Risk (Why Teenagers Do the Things They Do)