Mood swings and behavior changes are widely accepted as part of being a teenager; however, authentic mental health problems are common in this age group. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 20 percent of children and teens have a mental health problem at any given time. And at least half of adults with mental health problems had symptoms by age 14.
So, how do you know if your teen’s behaviors are just the norm or a sign of something more serious? Here are some concerning signs suggested by the AAP to look for in your teen that may signal the need for more help:
poor school performance, especially if this is a change for your child
behavior and mood changes such as anxiety, sadness, irritability, lying, outbursts of anger, withdrawal from activities and friends, wanting to be alone frequently
changes in sleep patterns—sleeping too much or too little
self-harming behaviors such as cutting on skin or unhealthy changes in eating
increased physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches, joint or muscle pains
drug and alcohol use
What can you do?
Try to talk to your teen. Hard as it is, really try to listen and not focus on giving advice or casting judgments at this point. You want your teen to feel comfortable sharing private information.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician. He or she has screening tools to better assess for possible mental health concerns and can help with referring for treatment.
Talk to your child’s teachers and school. School can often help with resource information for finding help.