It’s normal for children and teenagers to sometimes have low moods, poor motivation and trouble sleeping. These things aren’t always the signs of a mental health problem. But if you notice any of the following signs, and the signs go on for more than a few weeks, it’s important to talk with your child. The next step is to get professional help.
Common mental health issues for teenagers
Many teens feel down or upset at times. It’s pretty common for teens to think things like:
- I feel alone
- I hate myself
- I’m being bullied
- I feel angry all the time
- I’m in an abusive relationship
- I’m too fat or skinny
- I think I might be gay or bi
- I drink too much
- I’ve got a drug problem
- I’m being sexually abused.
One of the most serious mental health issues for teens is want to self-harm, or worse, wanting to kill themselves. If your teen is self-harming or having suicidal thoughts, it’s definitely time to get help
Here are some things that you may observe in your teen that will help to decipher the difference between mental illness and normal teenage behaviour.
Some concerning behaviours:
- Decrease in enjoyment and time spent with friends and family
- Significant decrease in school performance
- Strong resistance to attending school or absenteeism
- Problems with memory, attention or concentration
- Big changes in energy levels, eating or sleeping patterns
- Physical symptoms (stomach aches, headaches, backaches)
- Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, crying often
- Frequent aggression, disobedience or lashing out verbally
- Excessive neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
- Substance abuse
- Dangerous or illegal thrill-seeking behaviour
- Is overly suspicious of others
- Sees or hears things that others do not
It’s important to remember that no one sign means that there is a problem. It’s important to examine the: nature, intensity, severity and duration of a problem.
If you see that your teen is not engaging in other activities or with friends and is chronically disconnected, angry and sad, this is when the behaviour becomes abnormal and requires intervention.
Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to act on them. Even though your teenager may give you attitude when you ask him or her what’s wrong, asking on occasion lets him or her know that you care and that if he or she wants to talk, you are open to it.
Talking with your child about mental health
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, start by talking to your child. This might feel uncomfortable – you might even be waiting for the problem to go away. But talking to your child about how she’s feeling shows her she’s not alone and that you care. Also, your child will need your help to get professional support.
Here are some ideas to encourage your child to talk to you about how s/he’s feeling:
- Say that even adults have problems they can’t sort out on their own. Point out that it’s easier to get help when you have someone else’s support.
- Tell your child that it’s not unusual for young people to feel worried, stressed or sad. Also tell them that opening up about personal thoughts and feelings can be scary.
- Tell your child that talking about a problem can often help put things into perspective and make feelings clearer. Someone with more or different experience – like an adult – might be able to suggest options your child hasn’t thought of.
- Suggest some other people your child could talk to if he doesn’t want to talk to you – for example, aunts or uncles, close family friends, a trusted sports coach or religious leader, or your GP.
- Let your child know that talking with a GP or other health professional is confidential. They can’t tell anyone else, unless they’re worried about your child’s safety or someone else’s safety.
- Emphasise that your child isn’t alone. You’ll be there whenever she’s ready to talk.
If you raise your concerns with your child, s/he might refuse any help or say there’s nothing wrong. Many young people won’t seek help themselves. So you might need to say that you’re worried about them and you’ll be trying to get professional advice. It’s a good idea to encourage your child to come with you. If s/he won’t, you might need to go on your own.
Where to get help?
Mental health problems are unlikely to get better on their own, so you need to access professional help as soon as possible. Poor mental health or unmanaged mental health problems can affect your child’s quality of life, physical health, schoolwork, relationships and development – social, physical, educational and vocational.
If you feel your teen may be suffering from mental illness, seek the advice of an experienced mental health professional. Visit your GP and discuss your concerns, book a longer appointment so there is time to explain your issues and how you are feeling.
Your GP may write a referral to a psychologist, which may entitle access to Medicare rebates under the Federal Governments Better Access to Mental Health Care Rebate scheme.
Remember your Doctor and psychologist are there to help,and will not judge.
To book an appointment at Lifepath Psychology, or request further information about our services, please feel free to email your query to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 6496 0039 and one of our friendly staff will be more than happy to assist.
Want to find out more, here are some organisations that can help:
- Kids Helpline (telephone and online counselling for ages 5-25) – call 1800 55 1800
- ReachOut.com (youth mental health service) – online help
- SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) – call 1800 18 7263
- Lifeline (support for anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467
(picture credit to mt4teen) (information compiled from raisingchildren.net.au, Healthdirect.gov.au, youthbeyondblue and Blackdog Institute)