May is National Mental Health Month in the United States. This is a good time to remind parents and the world in general that teenagers are just as likely to struggle with mental health issues as adults. In fact, with the increased pressure on their shoulders combined with an ever-evolving technological landscape, teenagers may be more susceptible to mental health problems than adults.
If your teen has been moody, irritable, withdrawn, or unreasonably anxious, you may be seeing more than the usual hormonal angst. One huge mistake parents often make is brushing their child’s mental illness off as “just growing up” or “just puberty.”
Of course, it’s also possible that the moodiness really is just puberty. The best way to learn about your child’s state of mind is by having an honest conversation with them. When you show your teen that you’re open to communication, you illustrate that they can come to you if they ever have a problem — even if they aren’t struggling with a problem right now.
Warning Signs of Mental Health Issues
If you notice your teenager exhibiting several of the following symptoms, it might be time for a talk:
- Eating and sleeping unusual amounts, whether too much or too little
- Withdrawing from social activities and hobbies
- Lacking energy
- Not emoting or expressing feelings of numbness and detachment
- Having strange aches
- Expressing feelings of helplessness or being overwhelmed by trivial things
- Abusing substances such as alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
- Fighting with friends and family
- Experiencing unexplained and severe mood swings
- Getting caught in involuntary obsessive loops
- Hearing voices or having delusions
- Expressing thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Being unable to perform basic daily tasks like going to school
How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health Issues
Did you know that mental health issues are often hereditary? If you struggle with a mental health problem yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll pass it on to your child. That doesn’t need to be the end of the world, though. By fostering systems of open and honest communication, you can ensure your child comes to you when they need help.
Sometimes it’s tempting for parents to hide their own mental health struggles and worries from their children. There’s this innate desire to be perfect. It’s a fear that talking about mental health problems will make your child view you as weak.
But this isn’t a rational fear. If you talk to your teen about your own mental health, you’ll show them that they can open up to you about theirs. It’s better to be a parent they can talk to than to try too hard to be perfect for your own sake.
Even if you don’t have any mental health struggles of your own, you can still start a conversation. Bring up the fact that May is National Mental Health Month. You can make it clear that you’re open to discussion about mental health. If you’re worried about your child’s behavior, this is a good opportunity to bring it up in a supportive and non-confrontational way.
The “non-confrontational” part is very important. You don’t want to sound like you’re accusing them of doing something wrong. You want to emphasize that you love them and you’re here for them, no matter what they might be dealing with.
Teenage Mental Health Statistics
- 20% of young people between the ages of 13 and 18 have a mental health condition
- 11% of youth have a mood disorder
- 10% of youth have a conduct or behavior disorder
- 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder
- 50% of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14
- The average delay between symptom onset and intervention is between 8 and 10 years
How to Help Your Teen
Most people will struggle with a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. If you’re worried that your teen is struggling with mental health problems, the best thing you can do is talk to them. You can also schedule a psychiatric evaluation and sign them up for counseling.
If your child’s mental illness is interfering with day-to-day life to the point where they cannot function, Centered Health is an inpatient center for mentally ill teens. The environment is structured to give them the care and outlets they need, and the staff help teach healthy coping mechanisms while they get your child’s life back on track.