01 Apr Guide for Parents on Mental Health Disorders in Teens
Parenting a teenager is a challenging task. In the day to day process of getting it right and bringing up kids with well-rounded personalities, we often forget that it takes a lot out of the child to try to excel in everything.
Add to that, the social pressure to fit in, pressure from friends, teachers, the never-ending task lists, the long study hours, the lack of proper meal times, can all trigger a burnout. The mental well being of the adolescent can take a huge set back.
So if you ever found yourself asking why your teen looks sad and irritable recently or can’t recall the last time you saw her/ him laugh with abandon, then this article is for you.
What are the Facts?
- Adolescence is the period between 10-19 years.
- Incidence of mental health disorders in adolescence is as high as 16% of the total global count.
- Most cases go undetected or untreated.
- Social stigma is high and talking about it is not easy.
- Consequences of not addressing the problem in the early years lead to a carryover of these disorders into adulthood or may even lead to suicidal tendencies.
What are the mental health disorders in Teens?
- General anxiety
- Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder.
- Risk-taking behaviour often leading to self-harm, substance abuse or sexual risk-taking.
What could be the cause of mental illness?
- Peer pressure and a pressure to conform with friend groups
- Parental demand for good grades and high expectations
- Overstrict parenting
- Desire to exert their independence
- Coming to terms with their sexual orientation
- Body image issues
- Socioeconomic stress
- Facing violence or abuse
- Facing social exclusion, psychological abuse or discrimination
- Exposure to digital media with easy access to content which teens do not necessarily have the complete maturity to understand and analyse.
How do you recognise that your teen may be suffering from a mental illness?
- He/ She has long term irritable or unhappy behaviour
- Shows Irresponsible behaviour like escaping school or home activities
- Excessive anxiety
- Rebellious behaviour
- Expresses feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Has difficulty in concentrating
- Signs of over or under eating that happens too often
- Has difficulty in making decisions
- Withdraws from friends and wants to be in isolation most of the time
- Lacks motivation
When do you take action?
The point to notice is that most of these symptoms may be present in a perfectly normal adolescent. You should suspect a problem when these symptoms persist for more than two weeks and are not related to an apparent temporary cause like breaking up with a boyfriend/ girlfriend, loss of a parent or shifting into a new home.
What should be the action?
Their psychological well being should be a top priority.
First and foremost, listen to your teen and listen patiently. You will be able to pick up the problem and its cause just by doing so.
Evaluate the seriousness and seek advice from a health professional experienced in Psychology/ Psychiatry/ Adolescent Medicine.
Psychological Counselling and drug therapy form the basic framework of treatment, but parental intervention and action is the mainstay in getting your child out of his misery.
What is your role as a parent in helping your teen deal with a mental illness?
- Parental intervention is a keystone in managing mental health issues in adolescence.
- Communication is the key. Learn to listen and aim to understand the root cause of your teen’s depression. If it is a situation you can help with, then start putting an action plan to do so.
- Your teen may be more communicative with another family member like a grandparent, aunt or cousin. Let him/ her find comfort in talking to them rather than yourself. Encourage relationships that allow the child free expression.
- Discipline and schedule are essential. The way to discipline should be by positive reinforcement rather than shaming or punishment. Be gentle. Be firm.
- Protecting your teen from risk is a very parent thing to do. Avoid overprotecting since it may trigger an increase in rebellious and risk-taking behaviour. It also undermines their confidence. Trust them and allow them to learn from their mistakes. At the same time strike a balance by letting them know that they can lean on you.
- Limit your expectations. Don’t expect your teen to be great at fetching good grades and clearing those SATs with outstanding scores or becoming the next soccer sensation. Let them define their own goals and ambition. Allow them room for mistakes. It is ok. I often say that I find imperfect things beautiful and attractive. It gives my ‘perfectly imperfect’ teen a reason to smile.
- It is a good idea to encourage healthy eating habits and family dinner time. Even if you end up with heated discussions at the dining table, it allows your child an opening to come out with what is troubling them.
- Encourage exercise time with friends. The concept of a gym buddy or cycling buddy is excellent. They get to exercise, get their daily shot of happy hormones, and they get to confide in someone. Keeping fit is a 100% effective way of boosting self-confidence and developing a positive body image. This will eventually reflect in good mental health status.
- Be accepting of your child’s flaws. Don’t live in denial. Please don’t live in the hope of them being role models. A whole life awaits them. Accept them for what they are today. Love them. Help them and embrace them with a hug.
“A lot of love can solve a lot of issues.”
As G. Stanley Hall rightly said: Adolescence is a period of ” storm and stress”.
The most important part is to understand that so many teens with mental illnesses go undetected and untreated because no one heard them or heard them and ignored them.
Its time to look around you and help your own or another child you know is suffering, by crushing the social stigma around mental health disorders first. Do your bit and acknowledge when the time is right to seek professional advice.
I hope this article was insightful. Feel free to write to me if you have any concerns or incidents to share, and I will be happy to lend any advice or support I can.