When all is not well – signs a teenager may need help with mental health…

The teen years can be turbulent. It’s a time of great change physically, emotionally and socially.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/lovleah

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/lovleah

So how might we know if a young person is struggling? Not just having a bad day, but really foundering… Here are some signs that it might be time to get some professional help with mental health.

When is it time to call for help?…

Our own teenagers may be very different from those we care for professionally. That’s the hope at least! But there are some similarities:

  • Physical changes – young people’s bodies are changing and making the child-to-adult transition.
  • Emotional changes – strong urges, feelings of self-doubt and identity issues all show up during the teen years.
  • Social changes – pecking order, peer pressure and the onset of more serious romantic relationships – and sex – all have to be negotiated.

Is it any wonder kids can find themselves struggling during this stage of their development?

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So how can we help?…

It can hard for young people to negotiate these challenges alone. How do they know what’s normal and what isn’t? Let alone how best to deal with it all…

But we’ve been through it ourselves and come out the other side. We may have scored a few own goals along the way. But we got through it. We have the benefit of hindsight.

This knowledge, plus a few pointers about what to look for in the kids we care about, can really help identify when it’s time to step in. Even when it might be time to get some professional help.

5 signposts of concern about adolescent mental health…

1.  Marked & unusual changes in mood – we know that teens can be moody. They swing back and fore between emotional states. This is normal. However, if you detect a particularly marked or previously unseen change in mood, it might be time to ask more questions.

2.  Marked & unusual changes in behaviour – trying new things and exploring ideas in general is part of the deal for teenagers. But if they begin to appear with completely different and/or uncharacteristic conduct, things may not be well.

3.  Changes in physical health & functioning –  changes in sleep pattern and/or disturbed sleep; marked anxiety, fidgetiness, distractibility or inattention; somatic issues like stomach or back pains, or headaches may indicate the possibility of mental health problems.

4.  Social & educational/work changes – if mental health problems are present and remain unaddressed, changes might observed in the normal routines and relationships.

Relationships & associated issues –  for example: breaks with friendships; increased isolation; changes in levels of personal hygiene; lack of interest in appearance and self-care.

Routine – for example: absences from work, training or education; lack of interest in normal hobbies or pastimes.

5.  Self-medication – some young people with mental health problems drift into substance misuse or increased alcohol intake as a way of damping down and dealing with their symptoms.

Any one of these things on their own, may not indicate anything to worry about. But where one or more are present and seem to be serious and/or marked changes, it could be time to get help. A conversation with a G.P. is a good place to start. Or a CAMHS professional if a young person is already referred there.

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Final thought…

Young people in care, in the youth justice system or who are subject to child protection concerns etc. are necessarily struggling more than most.

They are, therefore, more prone to the onset of mental health difficulties during the teenage years.

It’s better for us to consult a doctor or CAMHS colleague to get advice, than to wait until things get more complicated and the young person becomes harder to reach.

Your thoughts?…

  • What signs of possible mental health issues have you come across?
  • How can we get the balance right between helping ourselves and knowing when it’s time to get professional input?

Please add your views in the comments section below, or by clicking here.

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