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Checking In On Your Teen’s Mental Health

It’s difficult being a parent, keeping up with our children’s social lives and activities while managing work. Home life can seem exhausting. Just as adults struggle with day-to-day stressors from our children, the number of children aged 10 to 24 being at risk for suicide has grown exponentially. One of the biggest problems in preventing suicide or depression in children is the inability for parents to notice it and begin a conversation about it. Adolescent mental health care workers are encouraging parents to schedule weekly check-ins with their child. A weekly check is easy. Plan an activity to do with your child such as walking, shopping, or going to a coffee house and enjoying a refreshment. Time spent together gives you both a chance to think, slow down and share your feelings. Teens are moody, trying out new friendships, and experiencing body changes. They prefer spending more time alone or with friends and that leaves many parents wondering if their child is okay.

There are subtle changes that take place that are not normal for teens and red flags for parents to be aware of. These changes can be indictive of mental illness in your teen. I have listed six concerning behaviors. If you see your teen behaving in this way it’s important to get involved.

  • Your child experiences erratic uncontrollable emotions. Teens can be moody but when they are out of control with their feelings throughout the day this is a red flag. Watching for the frequency of their mood shifts as well as their ability to control their feelings. Teens may be impulsive at times but should have ways to self soothe or calm themselves down without putting others or themselves at risk.

  • Problems at school. If your teen isn’t keeping up with school or suddenly failing classes, this can indicate anxiety or depression. Both should be evaluated. Talk with them and listen more than you say. Lecturing them will only lead to further withdrawal.

  • Not taking care of their hygiene and hiding cuts. Most teens are concerned how they appear to friends. If they stop grooming or taking care of themselves, they may be hiding self-cuts or feeling depressed. This sign is a red flag; unless parents intervene and get to the bottom of why their child is not taking care of themselves their depression can worsen and correlates with suicide threat.

  • A total lack of interest. If your teen suddenly loses their spark or seems lethargic and uninterested in things they once enjoyed, it’s time to get involved. This can be a sign of early mental health changes that need attention.

  • Dietary changes that include limiting or indulging in food. One area of control for everyone is what you eat. When teens are going through mental health changes, they may punish themselves by not eating or comfort themselves by indulging. It’s important that rather than lecture them about their diet, you begin asking questions and listening to what they’re feeling in their life.

  • When your teen dismisses you and has no regard for you. Teens are rebellious and that’s to be expected, but they should not dismiss you or not listen to anything you say. When your teen no longer respects you or your rules, this is not part of being a normal teen. Check in and see what is going on with your teen. Anger issues often are the first sign of depression, revenge, and violence.

If you notice one or any of these warning behaviors, talk with your child and act.

  • Schedule an appointment with your teen’s primary care doctor. Your child’s doctor has a relationship with your child since they were small and can make the diagnosis for mental health care support. They will talk to your child about their symptoms and prescribe a mode of intervention to help your child.

  • Counseling. A counselor can help identify the stressors your child is experiencing: lack of sleep, poor diet, underlying anxiety, depression and feeling alone. They can help you plan and work with your child and you to manage the stressors while providing emotional support.

  • Medications may be necessary. In some cases, the child’s symptoms are severe and immediate actions need to be made. Medications are frequently prescribed when mental health experts are concerned for the child’s safety.

One in five children develops a diagnoseable mental health problem and needs treatment. If your child develops a mental health problem, know it is not you or your child’s fault. Don’t blame or shame yourself or your child but do get help just as you would for a physical illness. Effective treatment is available and can make the difference between life and death. If at any time you are concerned that your child may hurt themselves or others call Suicide prevention 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK.

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