The teenage years are a time of great physical and emotional upheaval. Awash in fluctuating hormones, teenagers struggle to understand the changes in their minds and bodies all while seeking their place in the greater community. It’s a rare family that doesn’t live without the drama of slammed doors, withdrawals, and mood swings. But for a percentage of these adolescents, many “typical” teenage behaviors may actually point to signs of mental health struggles.
Check out these 8 warning signs that your teenager may be suffering from more than just adolescence.
Changes In Sleeping Patterns
Because of the many physical changes that teenagers are going through, they need more sleep than adults. Also, because of their increasing responsibilities in high school, they tend to be sleep-deprived. Sleeping past noon on the weekends or spending half their vacation days in bed isn’t, in itself, unusual behavior for adolescents.
But you may have reasons for concern in these situations:
- If their normal sleep patterns change dramatically
- If it seems like they are sleeping all the time
- If they use fatigue as an excuse to avoid social situations or going to school
- If their energy levels have dropped for no discernible physical reason
Changes In Eating Patterns
Changes in eating patterns to the point of excessive weight gain or loss can be a sign that your adolescent is struggling with an eating disorder. In addition to sudden weight changes, keep an eye out for the following signs:
- Obsessive exercise
- Evidence of frequent vomiting, particularly after meals
- Irregular menstruation
- Dizziness, fainting, fatigue
It’s natural for teenagers to withdraw from family life as they seek more independence and autonomy. But if an adolescent withdraws from both family and friends and shows a resistance to attending any social gathering, including school, he or she may be grappling with a larger problem.
A Slide In Academic Performance
Red flags fly whenever a child shows a sudden drop in academic performance. If inquiries into the classroom situation don’t reveal an organic reason, such as bullying, improper academic placement, or an underlying learning disability not previously diagnosed, consider other sources. Your teenager may be having difficulties concentrating, focusing, or remembering due to anxiety, depression, or another mental health difficulty.
Frequent, Diffuse Physical Ailments
The mind-body connection is strong. Anxiety, among other disorders, can cause very real physical symptoms. Anxiety over an upcoming test or project is natural, and learning how to deal with occasional bouts of stress is an important life lesson. However, consider seeking professional health for a child who suffers from any of the following symptoms on a chronic level:
- Nausea or stomachaches
- Backaches, shoulder stiffness, or other muscular aches
When a grandparent or a pet dies, sadness is natural and can last for a long period of time, returning and retreating as the process of grieving continues. But if your child seems chronically sad without an obvious trigger, cries excessively, or grief seems to be deepening rather than ebbing and flowing, these symptoms may be warnings of a more serious mental health issue.
Sudden Changes in Personal Hygiene
Your early adolescent, not quite yet cognizant of her changing body chemistry, may need a nudge or two to start showering regularly and using deodorant. But if she suddenly stops showering or changing clothes, or, alternatively, become obsessive about excessive cleanliness, there may be a problem beyond normal teenage behavior.
Substance abuse is a problem in itself, but it’s also frequently a sign of an underlying mental health illness. It’s not uncommon for adults and adolescents with undiagnosed mental health issues to seek numbness or escape in alcohol or illegal drugs. Keep watch for thrill-seeking or extreme behavior. In these cases, it’s vital to see beyond addiction to treat the deeper issues as well.
If your teenager has been exhibiting any combination of the above symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional. Early intervention can mean all the difference in getting your child the help he or she needs.