Protect your teen's mental health

November 23, 2010

Being a teen and being a parent have never been more complicated. Along with the usual risks and temptations, today’s families face an uncertain economy and unpredictable job market. On top of that, there are ever-growing opportunities for adolescent mischief via social networking sites, text messages, YouTube, and Twitter. While the challenges are different for this generation, the solutions remain very much the same. You have to stay close, continue to listen, and seek help when a problem arises.

Stay in Touch

There’s no substitute for spending time with your teen. Keeping the lines of communication open is one of the most important things a parent can do. When children reach 12, 13, or 14 -- just when they need help the most -- many adolescents start to withdraw from Mom and Dad. Knowing this can help you make the extra effort to connect with them. If you suspect a problem, ask your teen what’s bothering him or her. Don’t ignore warning signs and hope the problem will go away.

Mental Disorders

In any given year, one in 10 U.S. children and adolescents suffers serious mental disorders that cause significant problems at home and in school. Yet, just one in five of those youths is diagnosed and treated appropriately.

Like adults, teens can suffer from mental health problems caused by biology and environment. Biological factors include imbalances in brain chemistry, developmental changes, hormonal imbalances, and inherited risks for certain conditions, such as depression or other mental health disorders in other family members. “Having certain other medical conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, thyroid disorders, pain disorders, or chronic medical disorders can predispose the teens to develop mental health disorders,” stated Fauzia Mahr, medical doctor at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Environmental factors include substance abuse and being the victim of sexual assault, emotional abuse, physical abuse, or violence. “Even events like parental separation or divorce or being bullied by peers can have tremendous effects on the teen’s mental health,” Mahr said.

Despite parents’ best efforts, teens will make mistakes because at this developmental stage in their life they are exploring themselves and the environment to develop their own sense of identity. Their behavior is more likely to be impulsive during adolescence.

Warning Signs

A teen with a mental disorder may have a variety of symptoms. Depression often manifests itself as irritability in teenagers; therefore, persistent irritability should be taken seriously and must be evaluated by a health care professional to avoid any negative outcomes later on.

Symptoms of depression include:

-- Chronic sadness or hopelessness

-- Persistent nightmares

-- Declining interest and performance in school

-- Alcohol or drug use

-- Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed

-- An unbalanced relationship with food

-- Crying spells

-- Decreased need for sleep

-- Anxiety

-- Poor appetite

-- Irritability

-- Thoughts of death or dying

-- Self-injurious behaviors like cutting themselves

-- Feelings of guilt

-- Anger/agitation

Act on these signs quickly by getting your child to a mental health professional. Untreated mental disorders can lead to serious outcomes, including but not limited to, school failure, family conflicts, drug abuse and even suicide.

Most importantly, if there is any risk of harm to self or others, please take your teen to the nearest emergency room to be evaluated.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 23, 2010