Upon observing their grumpy, irascible, moody teenager, many a parent has wondered what happened to the carefree, happy child they knew so well. That adorable child is now awash with fluctuating hormones and struggling to become the adult they were meant to be. In the process they distance themselves from authority figures, most fiercely from the parents who love them most.
So how’s a parent to distinguish between normal teenage angst and signs of depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental illness?
Embrace The New Baseline
Teenagers can become angry or frustrated, verbally lash out, go on crying jags and feel stressed and overwhelmed. A teenager’s anxiety over what may seem to be small issues combined with sensitivity to suggestions can make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. This is the new normal. Learning to anticipate the source of these emotional swings is a parent’s greatest challenge. Embracing this new baseline behavior will help you recognize when and if their behavior changes.
Recognize The Signs
Living with a teenager is like riding a very bumpy road in a wood-wheeled wagon: everyone inside gets bounced around. But as long as the wheels fall back on track, your teenager is likely heading to a better place. Any serious change in direction, however, could indicate trouble. Be alert for any of these signs that your child may be suffering from something more dangerous than drama.
• Increasing isolation from both family and friends
• A noticeable drop in academic performance
• Physical changes like rapid weight loss or gain, odd sleep patterns, frequent sickness, bad hygiene
• Risk-seeking and/or illegal behavior, substance abuse, aggression, self-harm
• Excessive suspicion, paranoia, audio and/or visual hallucinations
Welcome Professional Help
Teenagers often feel hesitant to confess to their parents their secrets and fears. But a medical professional is a neutral third party to whom those same teenagers may confess their fears with relief. A complete, comprehensive psychological evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist can go a long way to separating normal teenage growth pains from a more serious psychological issue. The sooner the issue is identified, the sooner treatment can work, so never hesitate to reach out for help, for your teenager and for your entire family.