Perhaps the biggest problem of being a parent of an adolescent, particularly a teen that might be exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, is whether to consider your child’s behavior normal for the adolescent stage of life.
For instance, your child is sleeping more than he used to. He hardly responds to your questions about his day at school, whereas he used to tell you in detail. He used to help with the yard afterschool. Now, every afternoon, he closes the door to his bedroom, hides away for hours, and remains glued to his Ipad. You begin to wonder about depression. But it’s not until you notice that his grades are dropping, that he’s having a hard time concentrating, and that his consumption of food has dramatically declined, that you decide to take him to see a therapist.
Is it a mental illness or is it adolescence?
Of course, if you have a concern about the mental health of your teen, regardless of whether you think it is “normal” for this stage of life, it is always better to seek professional help. Doing so will at the very least provide you with information that can point you and your child in the right direction.
Sure, adolescence is a challenging time. Teens are attempting to discover their identity, searching for a sense of self in the midst of pressure and expectations from family, friends, teachers, parents, and mentors. Teenagers will typically experience discouragement, feelings of not fitting in, uncertainty about the future, an inability to meet the demands of parents and teachers. However, it should be noted that adolescence does not have to include great storms and emotional turbulence. In fact, most teenagers can move through this stage of life without significant turmoil.
Yet, even if you find that your teen’s behavior is typical for this time of life, you will have the support you need to move through the challenge with knowledge you did not have before. Additionally, a psychologist or therapist will be able to apply certain diagnostic criteria to assess whether your child meets the diagnosis for depression, Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or other mental illnesses. He or she will also provide you with treatment tools to facilitate the restoration of your child’s mental health.
Is my teen communicating his or her symptoms?
Perhaps you decide that you want to have a conversation with your child about your concerns. Doing so with respect and sincerity could facilitate a productive and honest dialogue. However, when you ask your teen about whether he or she is feeling depressed, for example, he or she may not be able to identify a painful mental state. Instead, he might express a physical ailment, such as a headache or stomachache. This is also true of sexual or physical abuse that often leads to symptoms of adolescent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is common for girls to claim having stomachaches or headaches instead of admitting sexual abuse. Similarly, anxious feelings that accompany PTSD might be expressed as stress about school.
Regardless of what emerges from your conversation, if your concern still stands, professional support can help to identify the cause of your child’s symptoms as well as provide appropriate treatment.
What if my child refuses treatment?
Even if you take your child to a psychologist or therapist for a mental health assessment and indeed discover a diagnosis, your teen may not want to participate in therapy, and more commonly, he or she may not want to take any medication. As a parent you can continue to play an active role in your child’s well being. You can do this by continuing to have open, honest, and productive dialogues with your son or daughter. You can also search for a therapist that specializes in working with teens. Such a professional will know how to cultivate a positive relationship with your child, even if it is challenging at the start. With this relationship, and the one your child has with you, it’s possible the willingness to take medication will develop.
What if I am a single parent?
Getting the support you need for both you and your teen can be challenging, especially as a single parent. Furthermore, if you have other children to tend to, meeting the mental health needs of your adolescent can be incredibly demanding. However, the support is out there. Professional mental health services are available in most communities, and they consist of individual and group therapy, support groups for adolescents, support groups for parents, tutoring for academic support, teen hot lines, emergency medical services, psychiatric services, information hot lines, protective support from the police, and legal services if you need it.
It might feel as though parenting a teen with mental health concerns is an insurmountable challenge. With the right support, knowledge, and treatment tools, you and your teen can find the mental health you both deserve.