Teenage Mental Health: What You Can Do to Help
Adolescence is both a magical and tumultuous period of life. It's a time of growth, change, establishing independence and navigating through life "firsts." It's also a time when the body is transforming itself, requiring a release of hormones and chemicals. The mood swings and intense emotions that come with adolescence are a natural part of development. However, one in five teenagers has a major mental health issue. Teenagers are susceptible to mental health concerns due to the stressors and bodily changes that come with adolescence. So, let’s take a look at teenage mental health.
During adolescence, it is a time to start creating positive mental health practices such as cultivating resilience, making appropriate choices and establishing healthy coping skills. These actions build the foundation necessary to maintain positive mental health into adulthood.
However, the teen years are also when the first signs of mental illness begin to occur. Half of mental illness symptoms start by the age of 14.
Because adolescence is an emotionally driven period, it is a challenge to differentiate between what is a natural part of development and what is not. Close family and friends may be the first to notice many of the warning signs of mental health issues. Some symptoms to be aware of are:
- Intense anger or fits of rage
- Excessive worry
- The belief that their mind is being controlled or feeling out of control
- Intense focus on exercise, food and diet
- Doing reckless, harmful things
- Increased isolation
- Loss of interests in their usual activities
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in their school performance
If any of the above items impact a teen's ability to function in school, perform their usual extracurricular activities, or maintain social and family relationships, then a consultation with a physician or counselor may be advised.
Common Mental Health Illnesses in Teens
Mental illness is not the "fault" of the teenager, family, or friends. Mental illness can occur at any age. Family and friends need to provide support and assistance throughout a teen's illness to ensure the best possible outcome. The following is an overview of a few common mental illnesses experienced by teens.
Teens may experience a lot of pressure to succeed both scholastically and in their extracurricular activities. In reports from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly a third of teens will experience an anxiety disorder. From 2007 to 2012, anxiety in teens increased by 20%.
According to the NIH, about 13% of teens experience depression. Unlike sadness, which is a universal human experience, depression is a prolonged state that impacts a teen's ability to function adequately in daily life or maintain their safety. A teen cannot “just get over it” or “snap out” of a depression.
Though depression is not the only cause of suicide, it is one of the major causes. Suicide has become a serious public health issue and the suicide rate for teens in this country has been rising steadily in the last 10 years. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the 15 to 24 age group. In a study from the 2017 Youth Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from the CDC, suicide was considered at some point by 17% of all high school students.
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Although not overly common in adolescence, schizophrenia is a mental illness parents should be aware of, especially in males. The first signs of schizophrenia often start between ages 20 to 39 in women. For males, however, symptoms begin in their late teens to early or mid-20s.
The symptoms of schizophrenia can mimic that of depression, such as isolation and social withdrawal. Other symptoms include talking to themselves, stating hallucinations or delusions, or being unusually suspicious of others.
Other Mental Illnesses
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and eating disorders are two mental illnesses that can occur during adolescence. ADHD is an inability to sustain focus or attention on a task, making schoolwork and daily activities difficult. Eating disorders occur in 3% of teens ages 13 to 18. Binge eating, throwing up after eating, or severely limiting intake can alert parents to the presence of an eating disorder.
How to Support Teenage Mental Health
Being an adolescent is difficult. Parents and caregivers for teens need to recognize that the teen years can be challenging to navigate. Teens require continued support and empathy to become mature and self-aware adults.
To begin to recognize symptoms of mental illness, parents and caregivers should establish and nurture a bond with their teen. Using techniques such as active listening can help parents learn about a teen's daily life and concerns.
Obtain appropriate assistance quickly. Most mental illnesses improve with talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or medication. Seeking help sooner, rather than later, gives more time for the teen to develop positive coping skills.
Appropriate Help for a Teen
Questions can be referred to a family practitioner or school counselor. However, if the teen depicts signs of immediate harm to themselves or others, call the proper authorities (an ambulance or emergency responder) to keep everyone safe.
Mental illness can occur at any age. Identifying mental illness and addressing concerns early in the teen years can provide teens with a solid foundation throughout adulthood.