If you’ve ever noticed behavioral or mood changes in your child, it can be challenging to identify the cause. You may wonder if it’s just a phase or something they may outgrow. As a result, it’s difficult to differentiate between normal adolescent changes in mood and the warning signs of poor mental health in children. In recent years, children have had to deal with dramatic changes in their daily routines, school, and socializing. While many are back to school and interacting in person, adjusting to these changes may exacerbate symptoms of mental health conditions.
The mental health of children and adolescents
The age range of adolescence, or the phase between childhood and adulthood, is considered from ages 10 to 19. Globally, an estimated 1 in 7 (14%) adolescents experience mental health conditions, yet they remain largely untreated. According to Mental Health America, 50% of people who develop a mental health disorder in their life begin to experience symptoms by age 14.
Adolescence is a critical period for developing positive social and emotional habits for mental health and well-being. Furthermore, parents need to encourage their children to adopt healthy sleep routines, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet. It’s equally important to develop coping, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. Additionally, children and teens must learn how to understand and manage their emotions in a healthy way.
In an interview with our Director of Addiction and Mental Health Services, Barrett Harr, she expressed the importance of parents frequently checking in with their children and demonstrating patience. She noted that it’s common for parents to quickly dismiss their child’s feelings or comfort them with simple statements such as, “everything is fine” or “this too shall pass.” Instead, parents should consider that their child could be struggling with an undiagnosed mental health condition and may need professional help.
Children and adolescents with mental health conditions are especially vulnerable to social exclusion, discrimination, stigma (preventing kids from seeking help), educational difficulties, and risk-taking behaviors. When parents recognize symptoms early on, they can create open communication with their children, and seek help as soon as possible.
Contributing factors in mental health conditions
Numerous factors can affect the behavioral health of children and adolescents. The more risk factors a child is exposed to, the greater the potential impact on their mental health.
Exposure to adversity, peer pressure to conform, and identity exploration can all contribute to stress during adolescence. Research has also revealed that media influence can create a false perception of reality, contributing to poor mental health. Moreover, relationships with peers and quality of home life (violence, bullying, harsh parenting, socioeconomic problems, etc.) are also risk factors that have a big influence.
Additionally, there are several other factors that can contribute to developing mental health conditions. These include living conditions, stigma, discrimination or exclusion, chronic illness or disorders, and lack of access to support and treatment.
Common symptoms and warning signs
Even though each mental health condition has its own symptoms, there are some common warning signs that parents can watch out for. These include:
- Problems with concentration, memory, or the ability to think clearly.
- Low self-esteem.
- Sudden, dramatic changes in academic performance (decline in grades).
- Changes in appetite and/or visible weight loss/gain.
- Obsessive body-image concerns.
- Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or worthless.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities that were once enjoyable.
- Excessive worry or fear.
- Excessive irritability or restlessness.
- Changes in sleeping habits, frequent nightmares, or feeling tired/low energy.
- Frequent aggression or mood changes.
- Avoiding people and social activities.
- Thoughts about death, suicide, or self-harm.
- Hearing or seeing things that other people don’t.
- Extreme panic.
- The onset of new behaviors or rituals that are repetitive.
- Changes in appearance (frequently wearing long sleeves/sweatshirts in hot weather could indicate that a child is hiding self-inflicted injuries).
- Frequent alcohol or drug use to combat feelings of depression, anxiety, etc.
Tips for parents
Keep communication frequent, open, and honest.
First, it’s important for children to feel that they can openly communicate with their parents, especially when it comes to topics of concern. By sharing personal experiences and fears from adolescence, children can relate to their parents and feel more comfortable communicating. Further, it can provide comfort for children to realize that they are not alone, and their worries are not uncommon.
Understand that mental health conditions are treatable.
Next, when parents educate themselves on mental health conditions, this can greatly improve their ability to recognize the warning signs in children. This can include learning more about the most common mental health conditions among adolescents, and also talking with a pediatrician or school counselor to gather any available information. It’s always best to stay informed and to be prepared.
Be attentive to behavioral changes.
Finally, adolescence is a time of transition and change. Although, if there are severe, dramatic, or abrupt changes in behavior, this can strongly indicate a serious mental or behavioral health condition.
Treatment for mental health conditions
At Feinberg Consulting, we acknowledge that it’s difficult to navigate the next steps when your child is struggling with a mental health condition. Our team of highly trained and experienced professionals is here to offer the necessary guidance and support. We can help you determine the best treatment options.
Are you or a loved one in need of support and guidance?
If your child or young adult is struggling with a mental health condition, it’s challenging to manage treatment options on your own. At Feinberg Consulting, our team of highly trained professionals is here to help you find the proper treatment and recovery resources. Contact us today to learn more.