Mental health is every bit as important as physical health, and there is a growing social awareness of how prevalent mental illness is. One in five adults experiences a mental illness in any year, and 20 percent of children from 13 to 18 will suffer a severe mental disorder during the teen years.
Why is mental illness difficult for teens?
Mental illness is not easy for anyone to deal with, but it is especially hard on teenagers. Teens lack the mental and emotional resources that most adults have had the chance to develop. With fewer coping resources, especially when they may be facing these issues for the first time in their lives, many teens turn to substance abuse or eating disorders to deal with their suffering.
Additionally, research shows that of teens who commit suicide, many were suffering from mental illness. This makes it essential that parents, teachers, and other adults know the signs of mental illness in teens and how to offer help.
What are the warning signs to watch for?
The teenage years are difficult for most people, so it can be hard to tell the difference between normal teenage angst and the signs of mental illness. The National Institute of Mental health has a list of warning signs to watch out for. Some of the most important include:
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Irritability that never goes away
- Insomnia and frequent nightmares
- Loss of interest in things previously enjoyed
- Self-harming or threats to harm others
- Thoughts of suicide
- Hearing voices
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol
How to help your teen deal with mental illness
Never speak dismissively. Nothing will turn off your teen faster than feeling as if you’re not taking him or her seriously. Even if you don’t think your teen is being serious at the moment, if they don’t believe that you listen and take the struggles seriously, your teen may not come to you when you are really needed.
Talk to your doctor about it. If you have any concerns, or even if you don’t, have a conversation with your child’s doctor. See what pointers the doctor has, warning signs that are important to watch out for, and information on referrals should you need them.
Be supportive, but don’t enable. Being supportive means listening to your teen, taking things seriously, and confirming your love. Enabling means making excuses for serious problems such as addiction or doing anything that might prolong addiction.
Talk about the problem. Mental illness should not be a taboo subject in your home. Do not let your teen grow up thinking that only “crazy” people get mental illnesses or that “strong” people don’t show that they are hurting. Talk openly about your own struggles, the reality of mental illness, and how anxiety and depression can hurt.
Getting help for serious mental illness. Mental illness can be very serious, but it can also be treated. Even if mental illness has led to an eating disorder or drug abuse in your teen, the mental health professionals at a teen treatment center can provide the help your child needs to recover.
Talk therapy, treatment centers, and professional medical support can all be key to helping your teen get through a mental illness and emerge on the other side stronger and more resilient than before.
In a emergency situation, you can contact the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736 or text 741741 to reach the National Crisis Text Line, where trained counselors are ready to help at any time of the day or night. If there is no immediate emergency, talk to your doctor about a referral or reach out to a teen treatment center for help.