Growing up is not easy; both children and parents face new phases and challenges at each new stage. Adolescence is a particularly challenging time as children encounter hormonal, social, academic, physical, sexual and emotional changes, and the pressures can be overwhelming. When do these struggles become more than just a teenage phase? For some teenagers, these issues can place a significant strain on their mental health and the consequences can be very serious if they don’t receive the support and medical treatment they need. Here are some of the warning signs that a child may be struggling with mental health issues which parents should look out for.
1. Changes in sleep patterns
Children and teenagers generally require more sleep as their bodies develop and grow, but there is a point when teenaged fatigue could indicate depression or even a substance abuse problem. If your child is sleeping for long periods of time but remains lethargic or, at the other extreme, has difficulty sleeping at all, such as insomnia, this could suggest they are battling a mental health issue.
2. Loss of self-esteem
Teenage insecurities are common, but these insecurities can become a serious concern. If your child is regularly expressing that they are worthless or inadequate and is obsessing over their body image, then it’s possible that mental health issues have developed. In extreme cases, this negative self-image can lead to self-harming behaviors or the neglect of their personal hygiene. Mood swings are common in teenagers to an extent, but a consistently low mood, unexpected weeping or dramatic mood swings could be indicative of depression.
3. Excessive social isolation
While your child may choose to spend more time apart from you as they establish their independence, you should be alert for signs of social withdrawal. If they are abandoning friends and avoiding all social groups, this could be a warning sign that their mental health is suffering.
4. Loss of interest in favorite pastimes
Interests and hobbies may change over time, but you know your child, and if they seem to be losing interest in activities which used to bring them joy, then it could be a sign that they are struggling with depression, anxiety or even addiction. Experiential therapies may help them to get back into activities and pastimes while supporting their mental health.
5. Personality shifts and changes in behavior
Excessive anger or aggressive behavior, paranoia, excessive secrecy or any other behavior which is out of character should be monitored as it could be a sign of psychological problems or substance abuse. Some teenagers can turn to alcohol or drugs to escape their mental health issues or to ‘fit in’ with their peers. If you notice that your child is displaying signs of a hangover, slurred speech or you find evidence of drug or alcohol use, you should approach the subject calmly and compassionately to find the cause of the problem. If your child is struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction, you may need to find a facility which specializes in teen treatment to enable them to recover.
6. Unexpected and dramatic decline in academic performance
If your child’s academic performance is worsening with no explanation or their attendance is erratic, this is a big red flag that something is wrong. It may be that they are experiencing social problems such as bullying or loneliness, but it could also signal depression, anxiety or a substance abuse issue.
7. Changes in eating habits or significant weight loss or gain
The physical changes we experience as teenagers coupled with the images in the media and peer pressure can have very negative consequences for our body image. Body positivity is crucial when parenting an adolescent as if these body image concerns grow into obsessions it can lead to eating disorders which are very dangerous. If your child loses weight rapidly, displays a loss in appetite or is severely restricting their diet, they may be at risk of developing Anorexia or Bulimia.