Teen Mental Health Issues 101: What to Look For and What You Can Do

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As a parent, your child’s safety and health are your main priorities. Unfortunately, mental health issues are on the rise among teenagers, threatening the very core of what parents and caregivers want most for their children.

If your teen is facing mental health issues, it’s easy to feel like you have no control. You may feel responsible for the onset of a mental health condition, but blaming yourself isn’t helpful to you or your teen. There are steps you can take to educate yourself and intervene to set your child up for the best possible outcomes.

Most common teen mental health issues

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most commonly diagnosed disorders by percentage of the population for youths ages three to 17 years old are as follows:

  • Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD): 9.8%
  • Anxiety disorders: 9.4% 
  • Behavior problems: 8.9%
  • Depression: 4.4%

Moreover, the CDC reports that teen mental health issues have increased steadily over the last few decades. One study showed that lifetime rates of being diagnosed with either depression or anxiety among youth aged six to 17 years increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011.

Signs of mental health issues in your child

The National Institute on Mental Health lists the following symptoms that you can look for as signs of mental health issues in your child:

  • Loss of interest in activities he or she used to enjoy
  • Low energy, even for easy or fun tasks
  • Struggling to complete daily activities, like personal hygiene or attending school
  • Drastic changes to sleep schedule and eating habits 
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Excessively exercise or dieting; obsession with weight or appearance
  • Engaging in risky or self-harm behaviors
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Feeling overwhelmed with stress or worry
  • Feeling sad for the majority of the day for most days
  • Thoughts of harming oneself or someone else

If you notice one or more of these warning signs, talk to your child’s pediatrician about getting an assessment for a mental health disorder. Even if you’re on the fence about getting intervention, it’s always a safe bet to get a second opinion.

Tips for parents who have teens struggling with mental health

If you have a teen who is facing mental health issues with or without a clinical diagnosis, it’s easy to feel helpless. Thankfully, there are some concrete tools you can use to care for your child and ease your own mind, too.

  1. Practice healthy habits together

Like adult mental health treatment, treating teens for mental health conditions usually involves therapy and medication. However, lifestyle changes can complement a mental health treatment plan. Whether it involves more consistent sleep habits, dietary changes or consistent exercise, you can both model the behavior and engage in it with your teen. Always check with your doctor and your child’s doctor before embarking on any new lifestyle changes.

  1. Keep the door open for conversation

As a parent or caregiver, your role is not to treat or fix any mental health concerns, but to offer compassion, love and safety. There’s no reason to push conversations that feel out of your expertise, but you do need to keep the door open to conversation so you can listen. This will help you notice signs of distress and build a trusting bond.

  1. Engage in treatment (even preventative treatment)

Whether your child requires intensive inpatient care or monthly counseling sessions, getting in touch with professional care is your safest bet. Even people with mild cases of mental health disorders or those who are under more stress than usual can benefit from counseling and therapy.

  1. Use the resources you have

If your teen attends a publicly funded school, you are entitled to receive extra support if emotional or mental difficulties cause a functional interference with academic learning. If ADHD or anxiety is a burden, ask your school social worker about starting an evaluation to see what supports your child qualifies for.

  1. Lean on your support system

Teen mental health issues can affect your whole household. As a parent, you especially aren’t immune to the emotional toll of loving someone who is struggling. Wrap yourself in support from trusted family and friends, and don’t be afraid to seek counseling for yourself, your spouse or your entire family.

The best way parents can intervene

Recognizing signs of mental health in your teen can be an alarming realization, and parents are often hesitant about what to do next. Regardless of the mental illness you’re worried about, the best thing you can do to ensure your child’s safety is to reach out for treatment and ask for an assessment.

At High Focus Centers, you can find all the help you need from the very first phone call. Whether your teen is facing a substance use disorder, anxiety, depression or any other condition, you can find confidential and evidence-based support that can make a lasting impact for you and your entire family. Call today.