Worried About a Moody Teen?

Mental Illness Often Starts in Adolescence. Telling Typical Angst From Serious Problems…

Source: Elizabeth Bernstein

How can parents tell if a moody teenager is simply normal- or is it spinning out of control? This may be one of the most difficult dilemmas parents will ever face.

Studies show that about 20% of teenagers have a psychiatric illness with depression, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder being among the most prevalent. Yet parents of teens are often blind-sided by a child’s mental illness. Some are unaware that mental illnesses typically appear for the first time during adolescence. Or they may confuse the symptoms of an actual disorder with more normal teen moodiness or anxiety.

It can be genuinely difficult for parents to tell the difference between early signs of a mental illness and typical teen behavior. But the risks of missing the more serious problems are huge. Untreated depression and other mental disorders can derail a child’s developmental progress or, in the worse case scenario, lead to suicide. For this reason, experts say, parents must be vigilant.

Parents who are worried that their teen is showing signs of mental illness should first put their child’s behavior into perspective, experts say. Occasional outbursts of anger, irritability or crying are normal for teens. So is dressing weird, rebelling against rules and even experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Periodic tension is typical, too. “It’s when the conflict rises to the level of hostility and real animosity, and doesn’t recover easily, that you become concerned”.

Parents should pay attention to how a teen is functioning in school, sports, favorite activities, a job and with friends. A temperamental child who throws a fit, even for a few days, but continues to get good grades, enjoy friends and participate in sports is likely OK. But one whose grades fall, who shuns friends or refuses to participate in a team or activity he or she once loved may have a more serious problem.

Other signs to watch out for, experts say: Teens who are excessively angry, abuse alcohol or drugs, or run into trouble with the law may be depressed. Also, Changes in eating habits- eating more or less- or sleeping (ditto) may signal a problem.

The most important thing parents can do is stay connected to their kids and keep open communication. Let them know that they can talk to you about anything serious and know that you will listen and hear them.

If your eyes aren’t open, if you’re in denial, the problems escalate.

There is a company called Behavioral Link that provides peer support, intensive in-home counseling and therapists who are available around the clock for parents and children is crisis.

Signs of Depression…

Physicians often use the mnemonic “SIGECAPS” for the checklist of symptoms, says Mark Goldstein, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He cautions that parents should not try to diagnose their children, but bring the child to a pediatrician. A teen may have a problem if four or more of these signs persist for two weeks or longer.

Is your teen’s sleep impaired? Is he or she sleeping too much? Not enough? Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?

Has your teen lost interest in once- enjoyable activities? These could include school, sports or extra curricular activities, friends, even eating.

Does your teen have excessive guilt? Or, is the child feeling worthless or devalued?

Does your teen feel a loss of energy? Is he or she unusually tired or exhausted?

Does your teen have a diminished ability to think and concentrate? An increased indecisiveness?

Has your teen’s appetite changed? Either decreased or increased? Some teens lose weight with depression. Others gain it.

Psychomotor Skills:
Are your teen’s physical movements speeding up or slowing down? This one may be hard for parents to determine. But look for sluggishness- or, alternately, restlessness or the jitters.

Is your teen thinking about death? Doctors ask teens: Have you had thoughts about death repeatedly? Have you thought about suicide? Do you have a pain?

Family involvement, a specific time frame, and a no blame atmosphere.