As a parent, you care deeply about your children. Often times, parents can misattribute a teenager’s trouble behaviours as normal adolescent behaviour. However, these behaviours can also be indicators of early symptoms for teen depression, anxiety, eating disorder, and a range of other mental disorders. Yet, you may wonder whether a teen is experiencing just the typical “growing pains” or a real mental health problem. While adolescence is a difficult time for many teens, there is a difference between “typical” and “troubled.”For parents, the key to handling mental disorders of teenagers is to recognise the problem and seek appropriate treatment. Mental health problems in teens are real, painful and, left untreated, can have serious consequences. What you know and taking action will make a real difference in a teen’s life. Research shows that if left untreated, mental health problems can become worse over time, affecting a teen’s school performance, social and emotional life. However, mental health treatment can be effective for teens and the sooner these disorders are recognised, the greater the likelihood that treatment will be effective. These disorders have specific diagnostic criteria and treatments, and a complete evaluation by a psychologist can determine whether a teenager needs help. Some of the mental disorders commonly seen in teenagers are depression, anxiety, and conduct disorder.
Adults close to teens – especially parents, teachers, coaches and school personnel – can learn to recognise the warning signs of mental health problems in teens, and refer the teen to a mental health professional. Effective mental health interventions and a positive school climate contribute to improved student achievement. Parents are more likely to see some signs of mental health problems in their teenage children than anyone else.
Many teens experience persistent feelings of sadness—the hallmark of depression. It is important to understand these core symptoms may indicate depression in teens, parents should be aware of some key behaviours—in addition to changes in eating or sleeping patterns—that may signal depression in teens:
• A sudden drop in school performance
• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
• Outbursts of shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability, or crying
• Thoughts of death or suicide
• Expressions of fear or anxiety
• Aggression, refusal to cooperate, antisocial behaviour
• Use of alcohol or other drugs
• Constant complaints of aching arms, legs, or stomach with no apparent cause
Treatment is essential for teens struggling with depression so that they can be free to continue developing necessary academic and social skills. Treatment involves psychotherapy either alone or in combination with medication. During psychotherapy, children learn to express their feelings and to develop ways of coping with their emotions. Some teens also respond to antidepressant medications, but use of these medications must be closely monitored. Psychiatric medication should not be the only form of treatment, but should be part of a comprehensive program.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
People with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) have ongoing, severe tension that interferes with daily functioning. They worry constantly and feel helpless to control these worries. Often their worries focus on job responsibilities, family health, or minor matters such as chores, car repairs, or appointments. They may have problems sleeping, muscle aches/tension, and feel shaky, weak and headachy. People with GAD can be irritable and often have problems concentrating and working effectively.
The core symptom of panic disorder is the panic attack, an overwhelming combination of physical and psychological distress. During an attack several of these symptoms occur in combination:
• Pounding heart or chest pain
• Sweating, trembling, shaking
• Shortness of breath, sensation of choking
• Nausea or abdominal pain
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Feeling unreal or disconnected
• Fear of losing control, “going crazy,” or dying
• Chills or hot flashes
Because symptoms are so severe, many people with panic disorder believe they are having a heart attack or other life-threatening illness.
A phobia is excessive and persistent fear of a specific object, situation, or activity. These fears cause such distress that some people go to extreme lengths to avoid what they fear. There are three types of phobias:
Specific phobia — An extreme or excessive fear of an object or situation that is generally not harmful. Patients know their fear is excessive, but they can’t overcome it. Examples are fear of flying or fear of spiders.
Social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder) — Significant anxiety and discomfort about being embarrassed or looked down on in social or performance situations. Common examples are public speaking, meeting people, or using public restrooms.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in individuals who have survived a severe or terrifying physical or emotional event. People with PTSD may have recurrent nightmares, intrusive memories, or even have flashbacks, where the event seems to be happening all over again. They feel extreme distress when in circumstances that remind them of the trauma, and go to extremes to avoid these situations. Additional symptoms include:
• Feeling numb or detached
• Trouble sleeping
• Feeling jittery or on guard
Events that can trigger PTSD include military combat, a violent personal attack, natural disasters, tragedies (e.g., plane crash), physical or sexual abuse during childhood, or witnessing another person’s serious injury.
Teens with conduct disorder exhibit behaviour that shows a persistent disregard for the norms and rules of society. Conduct disorder is one of the most frequently seen mental disorders in adolescents. Because the symptoms are closely tied to socially unacceptable or violent behaviour, many people confuse this illness with either juvenile delinquency or the turmoil of the teen years. However, young people with conduct disorder often have underlying problems that have been missed or ignored, such as attention deficit disorder, depression, epilepsy or a history of head and facial injuries. Teens who have demonstrated at least three of the following behaviours over six months should be evaluated for possible conduct disorder:
• Constantly lying
• Deliberately setting fires
• Skipping school
• Breaking into homes, offices, or cars
• Deliberately destroying others’ property
• Displaying physical cruelty to animals or humans
• Forcing others into sexual activity
• Often starting fights
• Using weapons in fights
Appropriate treatment for conduct disorder is essential. Aimed at helping young people realise and understand the effect their behaviour has on others, treatment includes behaviour therapy and psychotherapy, in either individual or group sessions. For youngsters who have depression or ADHD, in addition to conduct disorder, use of medications as well as psychotherapy can lessen the symptoms of conduct disorder.
Most psychological disorders can be treated successfully. It is important to seek appropriate help early on! To book a Brisbane based psychologist you can call or book online.
Try a FREE emotional health check up! Call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.