It can be scary to see your kid turn into someone quieter or more agitated than they used to be. You can do all the right things as a parent and your child can still struggle with their mental health. (Especially when living through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.)
According to Mental Health America, in March 2020, a whopping 83% of teens aged 11 to 17 years old tested positive or at-risk for anxiety. Even more—91%—tested positive or at-risk for depression.
While these stats are from when the pandemic started, it’s safe to assume a lot of these students are still facing the same issues. Here are 4 signs your teen may be struggling with their mental health.
1. Their mood is frequently agitated, angry, or somber.
Depression shows in different ways for different people. For some, it appears as excessive crying because of intense feelings of hopelessness. For others, it appears as a hot temper or constant irritability.
Remember that depression pairs with feelings of worthlessness, so be gentle with advice and criticism for your teen at this time. Depressed teens can be extremely sensitive to being told they failed in some way, especially those who tend to overachieve in school.
Your teen may also make comments ridiculing their own intelligence or appearance, signaling their struggle with low self-esteem, a common symptom of depression.
2. They lost interest in previously adored activities.
If your teen plays sports or practices a skill, pay attention to how much enjoyment they’re deriving from it now. Maybe they used to jog lightly on the field before, but now they can only manage to stand and stare, waiting for the ball. Or the sound of music would constantly drift from their bedroom, but now the house has become eerily silent.
If your teen is withdrawing from activities and friends to spend more time alone than they were before, they could be struggling with depression. When isolated, the easiest way for them to worsen their depression is becoming addicted to their phone.
While the online world may feel like an escape from their problems, research shows that excessive smartphone and internet use increases feelings of isolation, leading to more depression.
3. Their sleeping and eating patterns have suddenly changed.
Has your teen been more difficult to wake up in the mornings than usual? Do you hear them running downstairs for a snack at 2 a.m.? Feeling a desire to sleep significantly more or less is a symptom of depression, as it warps our levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
They may also experience changes in diet, choosing to binge eat high-fat foods or losing their appetite completely. This could relate to their loss of interest in things that used to bring them joy, or it could be because unexplained nausea or stomach pain is deterring them from eating.
4. They engage in risky behaviors.
High-risk behaviors are heavily correlated with depression for a couple reasons. One, people with depression tend to value their lives less, and two, they’re desperate to cope with the pain.
Some people prefer to numb out thoughts of anger and shame with drugs and alcohol. Others feel they aren’t worthy of happiness or good health, so they choose to self-harm as a cry for help. Some turn to unprotected sex as a means of distraction, neglecting to consider STDs or possible pregnancies before jumping into it. And if your teen is old enough to drive, they might consider racing down side roads recklessly for an adrenaline boost.
It’s important to have open, empathetic conversations with your children about their mental health.
If you’ve been noticing any of these symptoms or cries for help, call our office to schedule an appointment today. Because no one is too young to prioritize their mental health.