Growing up is hard. Nowadays, teenagers are under more pressure to do well in school, fit in with their peers, and make big decisions about the future. It is normal for teens to feel some stress and anxiety from time to time. However, they should not be constantly stressed or anxious. When it begins to affect their behavior or mood, it could be a sign of mental illness. Mental illness appears differently in teenagers than in adults. Knowing the warning signs can help you identify when your teen is struggling with their mental health.
If you notice any of these signs, your teen could be in crisis:
- Drastic changes in mood
- Has low or no energy
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Poor performance in school (missing classes or failing grades)
- Problems focusing or confused thinking
- Avoids friends and social activities
- Changes in sleep or eating habits
- Unexplained aches and pain, such as frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Loss of interest in activities
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling of need to escape
- Use of alcohol or other substances
Talking with your teen about mental health issues can be difficult. They may be embarrassed about what they are feeling and not want to talk to you. Encourage your teen to talk about how they feel and listen to them without judgment. Give them the space to respond and talk about feelings on their own terms.
Tips for talking with your teen:
- Identify a specific behavior that is concerning you. For example, “you haven’t had a lot of homework this week; you are over school lately, huh?”
- Ask open-ended questions. This allows your teen to reflect on their feelings and give more details. Asking only yes or no questions can limit the conversation.
- Let them do most of the talking.
- Do not use harsh words or get angry.
- Be open-minded. Your teen may be under different pressures than you remember at their age. Talk to them from a place of understanding.
- If they do not want to talk to you, do not take it personally. Suggest that they talk to a counselor or psychiatrist instead.
If you are struggling to get through to your teen, let them know about resources available to help them. This could be your family health provider, a counselor, or a crisis helpline. Helplines are available for teens to talk to a counselor anonymously. There are even text helplines. If your teen has suicidal thoughts or actions, they should get care right away. Find a crisis contact in your county.