Child Safety - Miller & Zois

Teenage Mental Health Safety

There’s no question that your child’s teenage years can seem like an emotional rollercoaster. Your teen is going through all sorts of changes -- physical, emotional, hormonal, sexual, and social. These changes do not always transition smoothly, and teens can be prone to being moody, often upset, and cranky. Parents may feel frustrated or confused by their teen’s behavior, but just imagine how they must feel themselves.

Let’s face it, it’s not easy being a teenager. Teens are facing extreme pressure from all sides of life -- pressure to do well in school, pressure to be liked by peers, and pressure to figure out their own developing identity. All these mounting factors can be incredibly overwhelming, and some teens may begin to struggle with their own mental health. Unfortunately, in our current society, both parents and health physicians tend to brush off potential red flags as another normal aspect of growing up. This leads to teenagers suffering from an untreated condition by themselves. It’s more important than ever to be able to recognize the warning signs of teenage mental illness and take the right steps to help somebody. Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse can quickly become life-threatening.

General Recommendations
    Teenage Mental Illness Infographic
  • Maintain a constant communication channel that is open, honest, and compassionate. You want your child to feel comfortable about coming to you for any problem they have, no matter how bad it is. Let them know that you are always willing to listen to their thoughts without judgment or punishment. Additionally, talk frequently about your own experiences with mental health, especially when you were a teenager or young adult. It helps your teen know that they’re not alone in feeling down or upset and encourages them to be honest about their own struggles.
  • Read up on mental health conditions and their symptoms. In general, being knowledgeable about different mental health conditions can help you identify problems with your teen, but it’s also deeper than that. Maintaining a working knowledge of what mental health is, how it works, how it affects people, and how to properly support somebody prepares you to better address and handle your teen’s emotional needs. Even if your teen doesn’t have clinical depression, reading about how to support a depressed person can do wonders for creating better communication and empathy between you and your child.
  • Remember that mental health conditions are treatable. Too many parents get caught up in the mindset that their child is broken or that their illness comes from not parenting well enough. A lot of parents also want to deny that their child needs psychiatric help. It’s time to break down those barriers and see the big picture. If a teen has a mental health condition, that means their brain needs medical treatment the same way any other physical illness would need. Therapy and medication are not bad or shameful things. They can make a world of difference to someone who is struggling. Mental health conditions CAN be managed with proper guidance.
  • Be aware of your teenager’s emotions and behaviors. This one might sound obvious, but check on your child’s moods frequently. While wavering moods are a normal part of adolescence, it’s important to identify any warning signs of illness.
Warning Signs to Watch out for

There are a lot of different mental health conditions that come with their own list of symptoms, but there are certain behaviors that can be a good indicator that something is wrong, including:

  • Sleeping too little or too much. Excessive sleeping or fatigue can be a sign of depression or substance abuse. Difficulty sleeping or insomnia could be a sign of bipolar disorder or another sleep disorder.
  • Loss of self-esteem.
  • Loss of interests in activities they used to enjoy.
  • Sudden decline in academic performance and motivation to continue school.
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite.
  • Frequent stomach aches or complaints of body pain.
  • Unusual personality or behavioral shifts that seem out of character.
  • Coming off as noticeably irritable or short-tempered.
  • Struggling with concentration.
  • Struggling to make and keep friends.
  • Feeling restless or wound up.
Common Mental Health Issues

Adolescent Mental Illness InfographicDepression: Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States, affecting around 10% of the population. All of us at one point or another will feel depressed, but that is not the same as having clinical depression. Teens with depression are stuck in the cycle of feeling sad, lonely, and worthless, among other symptoms. They are not able to “get over it” or “think positively”, it lingers over their life like a dark cloud. Depression is not something to ignore, depressive symptoms can lead to suicidal thoughts. Here are warning signs to look out for:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Unexpected or frequent crying
  • Increased moodiness
  • Change in eating habits that cause weight gain or loss
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Feeling paranoid or keeping secrets
  • Self-mutilation or talking about hurting themselves
  • Being overly concerned with body image
  • Isolation and loss of interest in friends and activities

Eating disorders: Eating disorders are another common mental health condition that a lot of teens face, especially for developing girls. Appearance matters a lot while you’re a teenager, and when you don’t fit in that perfect box, it can lead to being obsessed over your body image. This results in unhealthy eating habits and compulsive, destructive thoughts.

  • Anorexia: Noticeable avoidance of food, meal times, and snacking. Eating less, claiming they’re not hungry, and drinking more water. Obsession over the type of food they eat and how they eat it.
  • Bulimia: Purging (vomiting) after eating a meal. This can cause significant weight loss or weight shift without a noticeable change in eating habits. Look out for trips to the bathroom or somewhere private shortly after eating.

Substance abuse: A lot of teens begin to experiment with drugs in their adolescence. There are several reasons behind this: wanting to be cool, peer pressure, wanting to experiment, and rebellion. Teens are more vulnerable to getting hooked on alcohol and drugs, especially as a way to relieve stress or self-medicate. Watch out for:

  • Evidence of paraphernalia
  • Appearing or acting hungover
  • Slurring their speech or not making proper eye contact
  • Appearing dazed or out of focus
  • Loss of concentration
  • Has trouble keeping a regular conversation

If there’s one thing you should know by the end of this article, it’s that mental health is not something to ignore. It’s just as important as your child’s physical safety. Teens are facing serious hardships while they’re growing through adolescence, and their concerns should be addressed with care. If you think your teen is struggling, don’t wait to act. Talk to them as soon as possible and let them know that you’re there for them. Listen to their thoughts and feelings, and don’t always brush them off as simple teenager behaviors.

Sources and Additional Literature

Bentley, N., et al. (2019). Systematic Review of Self-Report Measures of General Mental Health and Wellbeing in Adolescent Mental Health. Clinical child and family psychology review, 22(2), 225-252.

Sapthiang, S., et al. (2019). Mindfulness in schools: a health promotion approach to improving adolescent mental health. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17(1), 112-119.

Mueller, M. A., et al. (2019). The role of the physical environment in adolescent mental health. Health & Place, 58, 102153.

Lombardi, C. M., et al. (2019). Social Norms, Social Connections, and Sex Differences in Adolescent Mental and Behavioral Health. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(1), 91-104.

DuPont-Reyes, M. J., et al. (2019). Adolescent views of mental illness stigma: An intersectional lens. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.