1 in 5 teens lives with a mental health condition and less than half are receiving the support he/she needs. The fear of discrimination and being viewed as different by their friends and peers is a large barrier to young people receiving mental health services. Learn the warning signs and be aware of your teen’s mental health.
When you ask a child or teen about mental health, often they will not know how to answer or will not want to talk about it. This may not seem like a big deal, but considering the staggering statistic of 1 in 5 teens living with a mental illness, this is something we must face. We need to be talking about it with our youth! We need to be mindful of the signs and symptoms so we can recognize if/when something may be awry.
One of my good friends of many years recently told me about an interesting conversation she had with her parents. This friend of mine had suffered abuse as a child and ensuing mental health issues that landed her in a treatment center in our twenties. She told me her dad admitted to recognizing a big warning sign in his teenage daughter–a lack of range of emotions. My friend always feigned happiness. She pretended like everything was okay. Because she was such a good actress, everyone fell for it, me included. Her dad wisely said, “Children and teens are supposed to feel and exhibit a wide range of emotions. If a child is consistently only displaying one emotion, there is a problem.”
Hindsight is 20/20 for these parents. They wish they would have seen the signs. Thankfully there has been enough experience and research done to give you and I a fairly comprehensive list of criteria to be aware of. The following are warning signs of mental illness to watch out for in your child or teen:
- Feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks
- Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Intense worries or fears that gets in the way of daily activities
- Sudden, overwhelming fear for no reason
- Dramatic changes in behavior (ie. if your once-ambitious or strong willed child suddenly loses desire to participate in activities he/she once did and/or is lethargic or empathetic)
- Plans or attempts at self-harm, or to harm others.
- Drastic changes in behavior, personality, sleeping, and/or eating habits
- Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to lose weight
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Severe out-of-control risk taking behavior that could cause harm to oneself or others
- Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
- Extreme difficulty concentrating or staying still
- Adrenaline rushes, cold sweats, and/or panic attacks
If you see these signs in your child or teen, tell someone you trust. Ask for help. A diagnosis of a mental health disorder will not define who your child is or their value. They can live a full life with their mental health struggles.
The best advice I can give to someone who has kids–especially teens–is to be aware of their mental health. Remember, mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. Children and teens are our most vulnerable and innocent population. Watch for changes in them. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Get in their business. Let them know you care about and are there for them. Adolescents fear of discrimination and being viewed as different by their friends and peers is a large barrier to seeking mental health services. Not talking about mental health increases the stigma around mental health; the fewer conversations we have about mental health conditions, the more these negative perceptions endure!
I hope that learning about these warning signs educates and helps you. Many adolescents struggle with their mental health, but do not understand what is happening to them or have the words to reach out. We must be there for them! Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have. If a child or teen you know is experiencing one or more of these signs, talk with their parents immediately. Help with mental health is widely available and my door is always open. Please contact me today or click here to schedule a session.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.