With the many physical, emotional, and social changes that accompany the teenage stage of life, it’s not unusual for adolescents to feel down or display signs of anger and discontent. Mild demonstrations of these behaviors may simply be typical teenage conduct, but when a teen’s mood disrupts their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it may be an indication of a serious emotional or mental disorder that requires special attention. Distinguishing between typical teenage problems and symptoms of mental illness is not always easy, but parents should be aware of significant emotional and behavioral changes in their child that may warn of depression.
Depression in teens can be associated with stressors such as academic pressure, or social isolation due to bullying or recent loss. Emotional changes may include crying spells, expression of hopelessness, irritability, or loss of interest in friends or activities. Behavioral changes may include insomnia or sleeping too much, changes in appetite, neglected appearance, and isolation. Depression is a treatable mental disorder, but it first must be recognized.
How can you give your child the support needed at this critical time?
It helps to learn the differences between age-appropriate adolescent behavior and a troubled response that could warn of a treatable problem such as depression or an eating disorder. Answers to these questions can help you identify symptoms of mental or emotional problems and seek treatment.
Q: What can I do to help prevent mental health problems in my teen?
A: Establish and maintain an open, loving relationship. That’s the most important step you can take to support your child through the tumultuous years ahead. Positive reinforcement will help your teen feel good about themselves, so offer praise along with correction.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers these suggestions for parents:
Q: What are the warning signs of mental health problems?
A: It’s not unusual for teens to feel stressed or unhappy at times. However, a serious mental disorder, such as depression, can harm teens’ relationships, disrupt their ability to function at home or school, and even lead to suicide. Learning to recognize such a problem is important for their wellbeing.
These signs and symptoms need attention:
According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of teen suicides are associated with a mental health or substance abuse condition. Risk factors for suicide include talking about dying, recent loss, changes in personality or behavior; changes in sleep or eating habits; expression of self-hatred, guilt, or shame; behavior that is self-harming or erratic; impulsive or aggressive tendencies; exposures to others who have died by suicide or local clusters of suicide.
Keep an eye on the amount of time they spend on social media, as well. While there are potential benefits to social networking sites, teens on these platforms are at risk of being cyberbullied and experiencing other online aggression. In addition, some studies suggest that frequent social media use may be linked to depression and other mental health problems.
If you believe your child may be struggling with a serious problem or mental health disorder, ask him or her about it. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, and it could put your teen at risk.
You should also talk with your teen’s doctor. He or she can provide an initial medical assessment and, if necessary, refer you to appropriate mental health professionals for counseling and treatment.
Q: What treatments help teens?
A: Depending on the disorder and its severity, your child may be treated successfully with one or more psychotherapies or a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Here are some effective therapies:
Teens experiment with different hairstyles, clothing, friends, and activities that define their personality. Supporting your kids through these years can be a challenge. Make sure they know that you love them, and you’re open to helping them solve any problem that comes along.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 or text 741741