From the time you became a parent until now, you’ve heard how tough the teenage years can be. “Just wait another ten years!” your well-meaning friends and relatives laughed as you dealt with an independent-minded toddler. It’s no surprise. As a teen, you faced your own struggles and challenges while trying to figure out where you fit in the world. Now it’s time to help your kid do the same.
While teenaged ups and downs are normal, sustained periods of depression and anxiety are not. Rates are at their highest levels in years, with depression and bipolar disorder affecting 14.3% of youth age 13-17 and anxiety affecting 31.9%. (For a breakdown of specific disorders, see The Child Mind Institute.) Chances are, if your child does not have depression or anxiety, someone close to them does. It’s important to be on the lookout for signs that may indicate a serious mental health concern.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
The National Institute for Mental Health lists several signs and symptoms of depression in teens. Ask your child these questions, or answer them from your own observations. Are the answers to one or more of these questions “yes”?
- Do you constantly feel sad, anxious, or even “empty,” like you feel nothing?
- Do you feel hopeless or like everything is going wrong?
- Do you feel like you’re worthless or helpless? Do you feel guilty about things?
- Do you feel irritable much of the time?
- Do you find yourself spending more time alone and withdrawing from friends and family?
- Are your grades dropping?
- Have you lost interest or pleasure in activities and hobbies that you used to enjoy?
- Have your eating or sleeping habits changed (eating or sleeping more than usual or less than usual)?
- Do you always feel tired? Like you have less energy than normal or no energy at all?
- Do you feel restless or have trouble sitting still?
- Do you feel like you have trouble concentrating, remembering information, or making decisions?
- Do you have aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or stomach problems without a clear cause?
- Do you ever think about dying or suicide? Have you ever tried to harm yourself?
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
Not only is anxiety more common than depression, affecting nearly one in three teens, but it can overlap with depression as well. The National Alliance on Mental Illness lists a number of symptoms that may point to an anxiety disorder. Have you noticed any of these signs in your child?
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Feeling tense or jumpy
- Restlessness or irritability
- Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger
- Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
- Sweating, tremors and twitches
- Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
- Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea
How to Talk To Talk to Your Teen About Mental Health
“Man up!” “Pull yourself together.” “What’s wrong with you?” “Stop worrying about everything!” For someone with depression or anxiety, these statements may provoke feelings of shame, guilt, or confusion. People with mental health conditions want to feel better. If they could just turn off a switch and go back to “normal,” they would. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.
Depression and anxiety stem from a number of factors: brain chemistry, genetics, life experiences, and hormones. There is no quick fix for mental health disorder, but there is effective treatment. The most important thing you can do for your teen is listen to them and connect them with the help and resources they need. Starting a conversation with your teen can be a challenge, no matter what the topic, but an open approach, without judgment, can make all the difference:
- Give your child your full attention
- Assure your child you will keep information confidential with the exception of a life-threatening situation, such as suicidal thoughts. If your child attempts or threatens to attempt suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
- If you have observed any of the signs and symptoms of depression or anxiety, share these observations with your child in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental manner.
- Assure your child that depression and anxiety are normal, like any other physical illness. Assure them this is not a sign of poor moral character or laziness.
- Ask your child if they have thought about what they might need to feel better.
- Offer a game plan for how and when you will get counseling and/or medical help for your child.
- Make yourself available to talk to your child regularly. Make it clear that you are on their team. It’s you and your child versus the illness, not you versus your child, even when their symptoms may present as anger or detachment.
One of the best ways to combat today’s growth of mental health disorders is to face them head-on, removing the stigma. The conversation starts at home. For help with connecting your family to local mental health resources, contact us. ACCA has a school counselor and school liaisons available to help parents and students beyond academic challenges.