Statistically, 1 in 5 young people struggle with mental illness.
That’s about 20% of our population.
Mental illness is a not a choice or a sign of weakness. It occurs all over the world in different cultures, races, and socio-economic groups.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness is no one’s “fault” and there is no one to blame for the imbalance of a person’s brain chemistry.
It’s important to talk about mental illness and have open communication with your teens regarding their emotions and thoughts, because that’s how you will notice signs of these illnesses.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults ages 15-24 and can often be prevented, as long as the person struggling gets the help they require.
Mental illness does not discriminate and will take anyone prisoner, no matter who they are or where they come from.
Something that is so important for everyone to remember is that mental illness is no one’s fault. It is not your fault as a parent, and it is not your child’s fault.
It can creep up on anyone and no one can stop it. Mental Illness is not a choice but it can be treated with the right resources.
Depression and Anxiety
Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional and am simply writing from my experience. I cannot diagnose your child, only a doctor can do that. Working as a counselor in an inner city school, I am familiar with the struggles teens must face daily.
I have spoken with many students who are struggling with family issues, academic issues, self esteem issues, and much more.
It is alarming to see these young people put so much weight on their shoulders, and that can often lead to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Those two mental illnesses are the most common in the teens that I work with. Sometimes, mental illness runs in families. Other times, a person can develop a mental illness due to many factors, some of which are listed on this website.
When I’m speaking with students and find out they have a mental illness, oftentimes, their biggest fear is the reaction of their parents. It’s unfortunate, but there are many people out there who believe that mental illnesses are not “real” and look down on those who suffer.
I even had one student who was severely depressed, with suicidal thoughts, and his father refused to take him to therapy because he believed he should just pray and go to church and will be cured.
In my experience, generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression are the mental illnesses most common in teenagers. The following signs can reveal themselves in a person’s childhood, adolescent years, or adulthood.
As an educator and counselor, I feel it is my duty to educate parents on the needs of their children and let them know the signs that indicate that their child may need help.
Know the signs of Mental Illness
1. Excessive sleeping
Now, we all know teenagers love their sleep but there is such a thing as sleeping too much. Sleeping more than usual can be cause for concern because it can be a sign of substance abuse, inability to sleep well, insomnia, and more.
2. Loss of self esteem
I see this a lot with the age group I work with, mostly in young females. If your child is usually confident and has a good sense of self esteem and then you notice a change, it could be cause for concern. When your child starts talking down to themselves and feels inadequate, here are some things you can encourage them to do in order to help gain that self esteem back.
3. Personality changes
Teenagers are known for their moodiness, but when it becomes erratic and random, then it’s something that should be looked into. An increase in aggression, irritation, and anger can be a sign of something bigger. These personality changes are usually out of character and can not be explained.
4. Trouble concentrating or focusing
Often, when our mind is buzzing with other thoughts, it’s difficult to focus on the task at hand. With depression and anxiety, your mind can be constantly running, making you feel emotionally and even physically drained. If your child is usually able to focus without any issue, but seems to be having trouble now, it could be a sign that their mind is running nonstop and they may need an outlet.
5. Self harm
This is the most telling sign and if you notice that your child is doing something to hurt him or herself, you must seek medical attention right away. Take your child to the hospital to have them evaluated so you can get him/her the help they need and save his/her life.
Of course, there are more than 5 signs of depression and anxiety. This list is of the most basic signs. More in depth information can be found here.
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What to do if you spot these signs
Let’s say you notice a few of these signs in your child. What should you do next? There are a couple of options, and they all depend on you, your child, and your relationship.
If you have a close relationship with your child, come straight out and ask them how they are doing. Gently tell them that you’ve noticed some differences in them and you’re concerned.
Do not judge and do not show signs of frustration or anger.
Be patient and let them know you’re here for them, but do not push them if they are resistant because it can make things worse. If having a conversation with your child is something that wouldn’t work out, there are other options.
Is there another trusted adult in your child’s life?
Perhaps an aunt or uncle, an older cousin, or a close family friend may be able to talk to them.
Often, children are more likely to open up to adults other than their parents. Let that trusted adult know you are concerned and see if they are willing to have a conversation with your child to see what’s going on.
You can also call your child’s school and ask to speak to a counselor, advisor, or someone in the guidance department. Schools have staff members who specialize in having these types of conversations with students, and sometimes, children are more likely to open up to someone outside of their home.
It can be easier to open up to someone who’s an “outsider” and doesn’t know the inner workings of your life.
The last option I have for you is to call your family doctor. Pediatricians or general practitioners have experience with talking to people about their mental health, and if they don’t, they can refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist.
This will provide you with a medical professional’s opinion in order to get your child the help that they need.
It is not your fault OR theirs
The most important thing to remember is to have an open line of communication with your child. Do not let them feel like you are losing your patience or judging them.
Listen to them, and if you have nothing to say or no advice to offer, that’s okay! It’s just nice to have someone to listen.
Listen to your child, and then you can decide what next steps to take, whether it’s taking them to the doctor or calling their school.
I know it can hurt to know that your child is in pain, but remember, it is not your fault or theirs.
You can show your love and support simply by being there. Let them cry, scream, ramble, and talk out their thoughts. Tell them that they have options and decide how to move forward so that your child can heal.
About the Author
Elle from ‘Jolt of Impulse’
Elle is an educator and writer who firmly believes that expressing yourself is key to your own happiness. She is inspired by helping others, being there for others, and letting the world hear her voice.
Her blog, Jolt of Impulse (Twitter: @joltofimpulse) focuses on health and motivating and inspiring others.
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