When to Seek Adolescent Mental Health Treatment

Now that your child is a teenager, you’ve probably started handing over the reins when it comes to making health decisions. Your teen can decide for him- or herself when they need to take an over-the-counter pain reliever for a headache. And unless physical health symptoms are severe, you might leave it up to them to decide whether they want to see a doctor for an earache or a stomach bug or just wait it out. When it comes to mental health, it’s a bit trickier, particularly when your teen is showing symptoms for the first time. Most teens have experienced a cold or a sore tooth over the years, so they know what to do. If they haven’t ever experienced the signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, they might be thrown for a loop. Here are some mental health red flags to watch for. If you notice your teen experiencing these symptoms, it might be time to seek adolescent mental health treatment.


Isolation From Friends

Teens will have ups and downs with their friends, but isolating themselves from all or most of their friends at the same time is not a matter of “teens will be teens,” particularly if it lasts for more than a few days. This type of isolation could be stemming from a few different causes, including:

  • Depression. One of the hallmark signs of depression is isolation from friends.
  • Social anxiety. A teen who has social anxiety might try to eliminate interaction with others. Note that many teens who have social anxiety are able to maintain some friendships; it depends on the individual and the severity of the condition.
  • Drug use. Teens who are using drugs might drop all of their old friends and pick up a new set of friends who are into the drug and alcohol scene.


Overwhelming Sadness, Hopelessness, or Grief

Depression is often defined as overwhelming sadness or hopelessness. While there’s more to it than that, a deep sadness that lasts longer than two weeks or impacts daily living should be investigated by a mental health professional. This is true even (and especially) if there’s no outward reason for the depression; keep in mind that depression is a mental health issue and not necessarily contingent on outside influences or events.


With that being said, teens who are going through the stages of grief following a death in the family or some other great loss are at risk of developing depression. Counseling after a loss is often warranted, particularly if it was a close family member or friend or if your teen seems particularly impacted.


Untreated depression can lead to suicide ideation, so it’s very important to seek adolescent mental health treatment if you notice signs of depression in your teen.


Dramatic Decline in Grades

Your teenager might not be as studious as he or she was in elementary school or middle school, but a drastic decline in grades is something to look into closely. There are many reasons that a student’s grades might plummet. Here are some of them:

  • Depression. A teen who is depressed might not have the energy or desire to keep up with schoolwork.
  • Learning disabilities: Although most learning disabilities are diagnosed during the elementary school years, there are some teens who have managed to keep their earlier grades to an acceptable level despite having a disability. A teen who is having trouble with schoolwork might have an undiagnosed learning disability or a processing disorder.
  • ADHD: ADHD is also a condition that is often diagnosed during the elementary years, but again, there are some teens who have kept their struggles under wraps or who have a milder case and haven’t been greatly affected until they are giving more responsibility in school.
  • Bullying, anxiety, and other social issues. A teen who is struggling with managing stress and anxiety when it comes to his or her social status or social interactions might not be able to spend enough time or energy on schoolwork.
  • Drug use. Substance abuse and addiction take a teen’s attention away from academic pursuits in many cases.


Loss of Interest in Previously Enjoyed Activities

A teen who suddenly loses interest in the people, places, activities, and things that were once enjoyable might be struggling with depression, substance abuse, or even suicidal thinking. It’s important to understand that some teens can be fickle with activities, but if your teen is dropping all of his or her interests, that could indicate a problem.


Panic Attacks

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, sometimes called an anxiety attack, you know how scary it can be. Some of the symptoms of a panic attack can include:

  • A pounding heart
  • Sweaty palms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Trembling’
  • A sense of doom or the fear that you’re “going crazy”

The good news is that a panic attack usually only lasts a few minutes. The bad news is that having one panic attack could predispose him or her to having more. Over time, this could lead to agoraphobia, or the fear of being in a place that they can’t escape from (such as an airplane, a bus, or a crowded public venue).


If your teen has had more than one panic attack, it’s a good idea to seek adolescent mental health treatment so that your teen can learn how to manage these symptoms and overcome the fear of having another one.


Disturbing Behavioral Changes

Any disturbing behavioral changes during the adolescent years should be brought to the attention of your teen’s physician. Sometimes parents might feel like they can’t define these changes, but they “know them when they see them.” While moodiness is common and normal in teens, extreme mood swings that lead to aggression, extreme hostility, or manic periods are not and should be evaluated. Dramatic changes in appetite or sleep patterns are other issues that might be caused by a mental health condition. If your teen’s overall character and behavioral patterns have changed, it could indicate an issue.


Adolescent Mental Health Treatment

Talk to your teen if he or she is experiencing any of these signs which might warrant adolescent mental health treatment. An isolated incident or having just one of these signs might not be indicative of anything, but if you see disturbing patterns, it’s wise to get them checked now. Make an appointment with your teen’s doctor, who can refer him or her to the appropriate mental health care provider. Remember that taking care of mental health concerns is just as important as addressing physical health concerns, and it’s good to impart this wisdom to your adolescent before he or she becomes an adult.