According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20% of American teenagers between 13 and 18 are living with a mental illness. One of the most beneficial treatments for mental illness can be early intervention and adolescent mental health treatment. Some teenagers go well into their young adult lives before getting diagnoses of their mental illnesses, let alone starting treatment for them, yet 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.
It’s crucial to focus on promoting good mental health practices, and as a parent or guardian of a teen, it’s important to know how to communicate that with them. But it can sometimes be difficult to identify the signs that your teen is struggling with mental health or just being a moody teenager. Below, we go into 5 early signs that may indicate your teen is struggling with mental health and offer some guidance on how to talk to your teen about their mental health issues.
Loss of Interest in Hobbies & Activities
One of the first visible signs of mental illness is when people lose interest in activities or hobbies that normally bring them joy. Teens are growing and exploring what the world has to offer them daily, so a little change of heart now and then when it comes to their interests and hobbies makes sense, but if your teen has been playing soccer every day since they could kick a ball, with the dreams of getting a scholarship or going pro, and suddenly they quit it all, it may be highlighting a much deeper issue with your teen. Ask questions about why they’re no longer participating in hobbies or activities they’ve always loved and see if you can make some headway here.
Alone time is necessary for any person, especially a growing teen, but too much alone time can be cause for concern. If you notice that your troubled teen is choosing to stay home by themself, not participating as much in family conversations or family events, or seems uninterested in their longtime friendships, it may be worth a conversation with your teen.
Asking them how they’re feeling and if there’s anything they need help with is a great way to start. Don’t go in pointing fingers and telling your teen what they need to change, be open and have open-ended questions ready to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
Behavioral or Performance Issues at School
Teens and kids tend to act out when they are experiencing changes in their mental health. It can be as simple as them talking back more than usual, or as complicated as them missing school days without telling you or failing classes. If you’ve noticed a change in excitement or attitude towards their school work, set up a time to talk with them. It may be beneficial to speak with the teachers at your teen’s school too and see if they have an insight into the situation.
Yes, teens do need a lot of sleep and are known to cash in on this, but doctors recommend that teens get 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night to ensure proper development. If you notice a change in your teen’s sleeping patterns, such as sleeping too much or suffering from restlessness or insomnia, it may be advised to discuss it with your teen. Be sure to have a conversation about the changes you’ve noticed and see if your teen would like some help in getting back to a regular sleeping pattern.
Whether it’s dabbling in recreational drugs or underage drinking, self-medication is one of the go-to’s for many teens struggling with mental health. Many teens are looking for something to change their outlook on life, help with the stillness and sadness that’s been consuming them.
When left to their own devices, it can be easy for teens to think they found a solution in drugs or alcohol, their immediate mind-altering effects offer a change from the mental illness they’ve been living within. But after those first few moments of relief, they’ll need more and more to sustain the feeling they’re searching for.
Teens’ brains are also not fully developed, and an increase of use of drugs or alcohol can hurt their brains development. It may be hard to see your teens self-medicating firsthand but look for signs of alcohol or drug abuse and try to have open conversations with them about the effects these have on worsening your mental health rather than helping.
Teenagers demonstrate plenty of mental ability with regard to rational decision-making and understanding right versus wrong. Adolescence is a normal time for a child to experiment. Over 50% of young people will try an illegal drug as a teenager, and nearly 100% will have tried alcohol, tobacco, or both at least once before they reach legal age.