Teens are at a difficult stage in life. They are young adults, but the only experience they have is their childhood. Without much life experience, they might feel misguided and confused at times. Meanwhile, around them are other confused teenagers, family conflicts, and the lingering need to hang onto their childhood, not to mention the presence of drugs, the pressure of new romantic relationships, and maintaining good grades.
You can imagine the sense of insecurity they might feel, the pressure to fit into society, the need for acceptance, and the experimentation they might need to do. Michael Rutter, a child psychiatrist in the United Kingdom points out that adolescence is a challenging time because a teen is searching for his or her identity. However, he says that adolescence does not have to include storms and turbulence. In fact, most teenagers can move through this stage of life without significant emotional turmoil. Sure, there are challenges that come with the transition from childhood to adulthood, but most teens get through this change without significant behavioral issues or disturbance.
However, there will be periods of adolescence that will look like depression. Teenagers will experience discouragement, feelings of not fitting in, uncertainty about the future, an inability to meet the demands of parents and teachers, and this may result in a sullen mood.
That’s different from having symptoms of a mental illness. Yes, teens may experience challenge, low moods, and struggle, but a mental illness will become an impairment in a teen’s life. Psychological illnesses, such as teen depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, ADD, and post-traumatic stress disorder come with debilitating symptoms that affect an adolescent’s academic performance, peer relationships, and life at home. Below are five signs that can help parents differentiate mental illness from adolescent blues. They may indicate the need for teen mental health treatment.
Mood Swings – Swings of mood from high (mania) to low (depression) is often an indicator of mental illness. However, occasional mood swings are typical for teens. As parents, you’ll have to differentiate a swing in moods that is out of character for your child.
Behavioral Changes – As a child moves into adolescence, he or she will behave differently. However, if there is behavior that is out of character, destructive, or debilitating, a mental illness may be present.
Dropping Grades – Teen depression, anxiety, ADHD, and ADD are illnesses with a symptom of lack of concentration. This can influence a teen’s ability to do well in school and establish healthy relationship with his or her peers. If you notice that your child is coming home with poor grades, it could be an indication you’re your child needs teen mental health treatment.
Physical Symptoms – When a teen exhibits lack of energy, a change in sleeping and eating patterns, headaches, stomachaches, backaches, or a neglect of personal hygiene, it could be a sign that his or her mental health needs tending to. These are signs that a psychological illness may be present.
Self-Medicating – If a teen is exhibiting escapist types of behavior, such as drinking, using drugs, self-harm, disordered eating, or excessively engaging in sports or other activities, he or she may be self-medicating. This is a pattern that comes with an inability to cope or manage internal experiences, and these are signs of a mental illness.
As a parent or caregiver, if you have a concern about the mental health of your child, it is always better to err on the side of getting professional help. In order to be diagnosed for depression, or other mental illnesses, your child must meet certain diagnostic criteria.
Whether you and your child leave the office of a psychologist with a diagnosis for teen mental health treatment or not, at least you have acquired the information you need to determine whether your teenager’s behavior is typical of adolescence. This information empowers you to make the best decisions for the health and well being of your teen.
Friedman, J. (2013). 5 Signs Your Teen Needs Mental Health Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/09/21/5-signs-your-teen-needs-mental-health-treatment/