“Don’t laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own”
– L. Smith “Age and Death”, 1931
Teenage years can be a hard time for many families, and a worst time for teenagers struggling to find their place in the world. As part of the normal process of growing up and moving towards independence, some teenagers get anxious and stressed. They may develop ideas, values and beliefs that are different to those of their parents, while parents may struggle with how much independence is too much to give their child.
In the same way parents have to muddle through everything from scratch with a new baby, very few parents are ‘qualified’ for parenting a teenager, never mind qualified to assess mental health.
But while being a parent doesn’t come with a manual, and the parenting role didn’t require a psychology degree to sign up for, knowing the signs of a mental disorder can help make the difference in identifying potential problems and at risk teenagers earlier.
Issues That Can Lead to Mental Health Issues
Approximately 20% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 will have a SERIOUS mental illness. Common issues and problems that can lead to some mental health issues include:
- Low self-esteem
- Negative self perception
- Sexual Orientation
- Peer Pressure
- New Relationship Issues
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Common Adolescent Mental Health Problems
- Eating disorders
- Self-Harm (cutting, hair pulling)
- Anxiety disorders (such as panic attacks, or GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
- Challenging and disruptive behaviours
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (difficulty concentrating, easily distracted)
- Post-traumatic stress
- Psychoses (distorted perception, hearing voices, paranoia)
Teenagers at risk of mental health problems may also abuse alcohol or drugs to try and ‘Quieten the Roaring in their Mind’, which often exacerbates depression or anxiety. Social or family stress, relationship problems, parental separation, or experiencing a traumatic event may also increase risk for mental health problems.
One thing parents can do, is to ask the young person if they are all right.
In their article for The Conversation ‘What can parents do about their teenagers’ mental health?‘, research fellows from the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University make it clear:
‘Teenagers who indicate they’re having difficulties should be taken seriously. Dismissing their problems may make the young person less likely to approach an adult for help in the future. Health professionals, including general practitioners, psychologists and psychiatrists, are best equipped to assess whether a teenager has a mental health problem and provide treatment.’
So, as a parent, your only job is to really ‘see’ your teenager. Observe their normal and abnormal behaviours and try to keep the channels of communication open.
Signs or signals to look out for that Your Teenager Needs to Talk:
- Withdrawal or reduced social behaviour
- Low mood
- Poor school performance and/or attendance
- Sleeping more than usual
- Impaired concentration
- Pessimistic and irrational thinking
- Loss of interest in things that used to be considered important (ie. sports, visiting relatives, hobbies)
- Over-dressing for the climate to hide self-harm scars
- Stomach complaints
- Expression of increased worrying
- Negative attitude (which can be confused as normal teenage behaviour)
- Preoccupation with death, writing or talking about dying or self-harm, and engaging in self-harm are risk factors for suicide attempts.
Also pointed out in the research was that many teenagers may act like they are displaying some of these signs just by simply being a teenager. Ongoing problems or signs that the behaviour is getting more severe could mean there is more to it than simply the injustice of living under house rules.
What You Can Do To Help
Regularly speaking to your teenager about how they are doing, how they are feeling and just listening to them can go a really long way. Have some exclusive on-on-one time in private where you can listen to your teenager express themselves without fear of getting into trouble can go a long way in your teenager trusting you enough to come to you with problems.
If you feel you can’t help your teenager or problems they are having are out of your hands, seek help – and do it early. Psychologists are FANTASTIC and they not only help you teen to talk about their issues, they will often talk to you about supporting your teen and giving you tools on nurturing their mental health at home.
The best thing you can do is to be there and present and engaged with how your teen is feeling.
If you’re worried about your teenager’s mental health, seek professional advice and treatment or visit beyondblue for resources, advice and support options.
If you become concerned about your or anyone else’s health please seek immediate medical attention or go to our health hotlines and website post for further resources https://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/babies/important-hotlines-websites/
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.