Updated: Sep 1, 2021
As adults we often ask ourselves or others “remember when…” Many of our responses are of happy memories or experiences even if the experiences in the moment were not so happy. Remember when you were a teenager? Let’s take a few moments to sit back and remember what it was like to be awkward, what it was like to try to fit in, what it was like to be completely confused about who you were, what you stood for, and where you wanted your life to go in the future. Some of you may be feeling that sense of relief that you did not marry the kid who was the love of your life in middle school, or that you made the courageous decision to say “NO” when a boundary was being pushed while others may continue to battle with decisions they made in their youth that have followed them into adulthood.
Now let’s imagine having all of the common worries all teenagers have and then place on top of these common worries risk factors such as stress, trauma, poverty, family dysfunction, developmental disabilities, chronic health concerns, substance abuse, identity issues, and the newest one to us all, a pandemic; in addition to the physical, emotional, and social changes that naturally occur during the formative years of development. These are the common risk factors that impact the mental health of our youth all around the world.
According to the World Health Organization,
Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people 10-19 years.
Half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds
The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead to fulfilling lives as adults.
The statistics provided above are astounding when you consider the many children and adolescents whose mental health concerns are never properly detected or assessed.
Determining if your teen is suffering from an emotional or mental health issue can be tough as many of the behavioral signs/symptoms can be passed off as normal developmental behaviors of moody/hormonal teenagers experiencing puberty and trying to find their place in this rapidly evolving world driven by social media and constant images of what pretty, normal, smart, athletic, and popular look like. The place where teens are more likely to look to for validation, self-worth, influence, and love.
One way to determine if your child’s behaviors are symptoms of a larger problem is to track the frequency and duration of the behaviors; are the behavior changes infrequent only occurring here and there over time or are they consistent over a period of weeks or months; are the behaviors confined to certain situations and/or environments, and most of all, are the behaviors interfering with the child’s ability to function on a daily basis at home, in school, or with peers. If you find yourself saying yes to the latter, it is time to speak to your child’s physician about these significant behavior signs and symptoms that may indicate your child needs further help.
Common behavioral signs and symptoms that indicate your teen may benefit from evaluation and treatment include but are not limited to:
Repeatedly talks about worries and fears
Loss of interest in or withdrawal activities and/or people they used to enjoy
Isolation or avoidance
Substance use (including vaping the “new cigarette” of teens)
Engaging in risky or destructive behaviors (sex, stealing, excessive lying)
Talk of feeling hopeless or of suicide
Significant changes in sleep, energy, appetite, and motivations
As the world continues to evolve so too will the risk factors our teens face every day. It is important for every adult who plays a significant role in the lives of our teens to be present and vigilant, listen to their concerns with patience and empathy, be more proactive (encouraging, supportive, loving) and less reactive (quick to judge, punish, or discipline). Be the adult in their lives that you wish you had when you were them, trying your best to maneuver in a world that you weren’t quite sure you belonged in no matter the reason. Be open to therapy for your teen, understand that sometimes it’s not about you as a parent while also being open to understanding that it just might be about you as a parent, recognizing how your struggles as a teen and beyond may have influenced the maladaptive behaviors/habits you adapted as coping mechanisms that are now manifesting in your teen.
As Whitney Houston once sang so beautifully “the children are our future,” ensuring they have every tool they need to grow into grounded, mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy individuals who will go on to make their own unique impact on this world for generations and generations to come.
Author: Breonda J. Dixon, CPCI, CADCI
References: The World Health Retrieved from Organization https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health