During the years of adolescence everything, it seems, is in a state of upheaval for the young person. There are outward changes in size, stature and shape. There are inward changes in thinking, feeling and relating. This personal storm can be traumatic enough on its own, but if it combines with other stressors adolescents may experience some form of a mental health disorder as a result.
What to Watch For
Since there is so much changing in an adolescent’s life, how can parents know if their child is in trouble? With teens it will usually mean keeping an eye on the degree of change. Most of the mental health warning signs could be considered normal adolescent changes in one degree but become flags of concern at a greater degree. Some common things to keep an eye (or ear) on are:
Sleep changes – many adolescents love to sleep, but excessive sleep can be a symptom of depression
Low self-worth – most teens struggle with their self-image, but in excess it is problematic
Sudden academic struggles and problems at school
Anger or aggressiveness – adolescents often have more family conflict but unexplained outbursts are not normal
Eating changes – this can be more or less, but markedly less could flag an eating disorder.
What Parents Can Do
The most common mental health disorders faced by adolescents are depression, substance abuse and eating disorders – all of which are treatable. Parents should do their best to be approachable and keep lines of communication open. It is helpful to offer meaningful and frequent encouragement and reassurance about the pressures and fears that go along with adolescence. The stormy period is less frightening if they know that most people have a bumpy passage. Finally, don’t hesitate to bring an adolescent in to Family Guidance for evaluation or treatment. A stormy youth is normal, but mental health should be monitored and cared for just like physical health.