If you notice that your teen has lower grades one semester compared to his or her previous academic history, you might want to take notice. Of course, a drop in grades might mean that he or she is going through a challenging time, such as feeling left out at school, having few friends, or experiencing a sense of confusion, which is common in adolescence. If the drop in grades is temporary, it might not be anything to worry about. It might be something that you and your teen can discuss and work through together.
On the other hand, having lower grades for consecutive semesters might indicate something more significant. For instance, 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 a healthy relationship with his or her peers. If you notice that your child is coming home with poor grades consistently, it could be an indication your teen needs mental health treatment.
It’s true that adolescence comes with significant life stressors and this alone might influence their academic performance. Adolescents are unknowingly achieving large psychological tasks such as reaching for their independence, uncovering their uniqueness, and finding their adulthood. Yet, their environment might contain the presence of other confused teenagers, family conflicts, drug experimentation, and peer pressure. Plus, they must be thinking about possibly moving away from home, getting into college, and perhaps even what type of career they’re after. All of this might have an effect on a teen’s academic performance at some point during high school.
Furthermore, there might 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. Yet, this is not the same thing as having a mental illness. Although teens might experience low moods or anxiety or a sense of confused identity, having a mental illness is different.
Typically, 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. When you see a consistent drop in grades, this can be one sign that your teen might need mental health care. Below are four additional signs to look for to help differentiate mental illness from adolescent difficulty.
- 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.
- 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. Adolescents who have a psychological illness, especially those without a diagnosis, are often looking for relief from challenging emotions or for a way to better function in school, at home, or at work. As a result, they use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism or as a way to self-medicate.
There is a clear relationship between chronic academic issues and the presence of mental illness. If you are a caregiver or parent of a teen and you’re seeing these signs in his or her life, contact a mental health professional today.