Raising a teenager can be challenging even at the best of times. Young adults must cope with hormonal changes while they explore their place in the world. They also have to navigate school or college, exam stress and peer pressure. With so much change happening, it can be difficult as a parent, or carer, to recognise when your teenager is not coping well. Anxiety and depression in teenagers is an increasingly common problem.
In 2017, a report published by Saving and Empowering Young Lives in Europe (SEYLE) highlighted that one in 7 Irish teenagers had severe symptoms of depression and almost a quarter had symptoms of anxiety. These figures mirror other studies conducted in Europe and the USA – mental health issues in teenagers are overall on the increase.
There is no one cause of depression or anxiety in teenagers, and it can affect young adults from all walks of life. Parents often overlook symptoms because they can be masked by normal ups-and-downs in behaviour such as moodiness or reluctance to talk. However, if you notice a marked difference in your teenager’s behaviour then it might be a sign of depression or anxiety. Signs to look for include:
- avoiding activities that they once enjoyed
- retreating from the world for long periods of time
- problems at school
- bad moods that last for more than a couple weeks
- reckless behaviour
- restlessness or agitation
- changes in appetite or eating habits
- insomnia or sleeping too much
Being present and available for your teen to talk can be a big first step to helping them. Although in recent years there has been more awareness surrounding mental health, it can still be a difficult topic to approach. Just being a good listener, without passing any judgement, can really help an anxious or depressed teenager. Speaking with your teenager about mental health should be a priority so make sure you step away from social media, smartphones or other distractions. Give your child your undivided attention.
Becoming better educated yourself about mental health issues in teenagers creates a bridge between you and your child. You can then help them understand symptoms better and they will know that you are taking them seriously.
You can also offer support by investing in their physical wellbeing. Irregular sleeping patterns, too much screen time, poor eating habits and lack of physical activity can exacerbate mental health conditions. Ensuring your child eats well and goes to sleep at a reasonable time can help as can suggesting physical activities they might enjoy.
Not all teenagers are happy to talk to their parents or they may feel they need extra support to help them. Organisations, charities and trained professionals can offer needed support and assistance. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
If you are concerned about anxiety or depression in a teenager, you can contact me for a confidential chat.