Your son used to bound down the stairs each evening and eagerly plant himself between you and your spouse. Chatting about his day, you delighted in hearing about his colorful adventures. But lately he prefers sitting quietly in his room each evening. He says he is doing homework – who can complain about that? Yet you have a feeling something is not quite right. You miss your enthusiastic, fun-loving boy.
Oh, the moody teenage years. Your mother warned you about raising a teenager. However she failed to mention adolescence can be as difficult for the parent as the child. What is a parent to do? Your daughter flies off the handle for the silliest things. Does putting one’s laundry away warrant a screaming match? She used to be so much fun to be around, but lately she seems irritable and angry. Did I do something wrong? Maybe it is just those teenage hormones.
Adolescence is a time of rapid mental, emotional, social, and physical growth. It is a time for exploring one’s identity, aspirations, and interests. Watching your child develop into their own person is at the same time exciting and daunting. Mood swings, crabbiness, and irritation can be expected. After all, we all have bad days. But what if it is something more? What if your child is actually experiencing a mental condition that requires treatment ? How would you know?
I recently attended a summit about the topic of anxiety and depression among young people. It was presented by a recently launched campaign called the Campaign to Change Direction*. This organization’s mission is to ignite conversation about mental/emotional health and wellness. By educating the public about five recognizable symptoms, individuals who are quietly suffering may finally get help. The sigma of mental illness may be eliminated by recognizing mental health is equally important as physical health, and very common. According to Change Direction, about one in five individuals have a mental health condition, including depression and anxiety. But more importantly, “HALF of all mental disorders begin by age 14.”
In fact, one of the young people on the panel of the summit stated problems began about the age of 7.
As I listened to these amazing, brilliant, outstanding young people share their stories, it dawned on me; how many times did I assume a child was just quiet, or shy, or having a bad day, when in fact they may have been dealing with something deeper that deserved recognition? It is so easy to brush people off and attribute moodiness to their personality; sure, maybe it is their disposition – or maybe they need help.
The Campaign to Change Direction offers five signs that indicate a person may need help.
- Their personality changes. They just seem different from their usual selves. This may happen suddenly or very gradually.
- They seem usually irritable, moody, anxious, angry. Little things can set them off and they may have difficulty sleeping.
- They withdraw or isolate themselves when they used to be socially engaged. They may no longer attend work or school and may withdraw from teams or clubs they previously enjoyed.
- They may stop caring for themselves. Their personal hygiene may be lacking or they may not care about their appearance. They may begin to engage in risky behavior such as cutting, drinking or drugging.
- They may feel hopeless and overwhelmed. They are no longer optimistic. They may feel they do not matter, which may indicate suicidal thoughts.
As parents and friends, what can we do to help individuals struggling with emotional health?
This question was posed to the student panel at the Change Direction event. The students stated the best way to support someone with mental health problems is to simply be there and listen, be supportive and caring. If the situation requires further help, for example if the person talks about harming themselves, get help. Tell a trusted adult and professional, such as a school social worker or psychologist, parent, psychiatrist, or therapist.
Offering solutions, telling them it will all be better, minimizing their feelings, and telling them to “get over it” are not a positive approach. It fact it could be detrimental. Feeling judged may prevent someone who is suffering from reaching out for professional help.
Treatment is available in the form of counseling and medication. Finding a therapist and psychiatrist that both parent and adolescent trust will enable healing. However mental health is often a life-long condition that requires continued care. Just like many medical conditions.
Reach out to the young person or adult in your life whom you feel may be going through a difficult time. A kind word, a supportive gesture, a quick “how have you been?” can make a tremendous difference to a person who is hurting.
To learn more, go to Change Direction.
*(Content courtesy changedirection.org)