early warning signs of mental illness in teens
Published On: October 14, 2016|Categories: Teen Mental Health|

Mental illnesses do not discriminate — they affect anyone, of any age. They arise based on the environments in which we live, the people whom we surround ourselves with and the chemical composition of our brains. For this reason, we don’t always have control over whether or not a mental illness develops, but we can act preventatively to slow its development and build up our mental health instead.

Teen mental health

As a parent, it’s your job to take care of your child’s health as best as you’re able – mentally and physically. We’re all pretty good at identifying warning signs of physical illnesses, but less adept at noting signs of declining mental health. And this doesn’t mean we’re not looking – it simply means the signs aren’t as obvious as a runny nose or sneezing fit.

When it comes to the mental health of your teen, it is important to act preventatively and set them up for success. For example, if you know depression runs in your family, you may consider having a conversation with your teen about what depression is, what its symptoms look like and the importance of asking for help if they are struggling to manage symptoms. Or maybe you know of a traumatic incident your child experienced. Help your teen to consider therapy and the benefits offered by talking to a counselor and learning proper coping mechanisms.

Even though you yourself may not be equipped to help your child handle a mental illness on your own, there are plenty of resources available for parents, including what to expect from counseling sessions for your teen and what signs are indicators of a mental illness.

Warnings signs of a mental health disorder

No one wants to be labeled as paranoid – but paranoia and prevention are two very different things. When it comes to the mental health of your child, acting preventatively can make a huge difference in their life.

So what signs should you set off an alert in your mind? What signs actually point to a possible mental illness?

Anxiety and fear

Every teen will experience some anxiety from time to time, such as in the days leading up to a big exam, a performance or a competition. However, if a teen is feeling anxious or stressed almost constantly, there could be a mental health problem present, or one developing.

Signs to indicate anxiety in a teen include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased sensitivity to criticism or comments, especially about one’s appearance
  • A drop in school attendance and/or grades
  • Withdrawing socially/not showing interest in previously enjoyed events
  • A seemingly chronic stomachache or headache
  • Increased stress about routine parts of everyday life

Each child will show different signs based on their situation, and not every sign means your child is battling anxiety (perhaps chemistry just really isn’t your child’s strong suit), but knowing what to look for can increase your preparedness if multiple symptoms arise and/or your teen comes to you for help.

Major behavioral changes

If a teen’s behavior changes radically, it is important to find out why, as drastic, uncharacteristic shifts in behavior are some of the most common symptoms of mental health disorders.

While these shifts may be obvious, it’s helpful to know the signs to look for:

  • Starting to miss school entirely, or skipping classes
  • Poorer performance on tests
  • Decreasing interest in personal hygiene
  • Becoming lethargic and withdrawn
  • Pronounced mood swings
  • Getting into trouble more often, or facing increased disciplinary action
  • Switching friend groups suddenly

While middle and high school are filled with times of change and adjustment, you will be able to note when those changes feel natural and when they feel like they might be indicative of a larger problem occurring beneath the surface.

Substance use

Unfortunately, many adolescents will experiment with drugs or alcohol as substance use has become widespread and easily accessible. More than half of all high school kids will have tried alcohol before their schooling finishes.

For many teens, their experimentation will have no long-term effects, although they are likely to experience negative short-term effects. And even though most teens won’t become addicted, dependence on substances is always a risk, even when one simply experiments.

So why will some develop a substance use disorder and others will not?

There are many reasons, but a common one is an underlying, untreated mental health disorder. If you notice signs of substance use in your teen, it may be because they are using substances as a means of coping with symptoms of a mental illness. In this case, it’s important to talk with your teen and get them the help they need to properly handle any challenging mental health symptoms and also avoid the development of a co-occurring substance use disorder.

Getting help for your teen

It can be difficult to differentiate signs and symptoms of mental illness from normal behavior in teens. Their bodies are undergoing rapid changes, and this can lead to anxiety, mood swings, problems concentrating and many other issues. If you suspect your teen is ill, try to broach the subject gently with them and suggest a visit to the doctor for an assessment. Do your best to remain calm and judgment-free — after all, you’re both figuring out how to navigate this and these things take time and patience.

If anything, let your child know how much you care and how badly you want them to feel better. By showing your support and desire for their mental wellness, they may be more receptive to your help.

For further assistance, such as speaking to someone about getting help for your teen — or for yourself — contact High Focus Centers to learn about our programs. Start your research today and contact us online or by calling our offices at 800-877-3628.

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