The teen years can be a challenge for both parents and kids. It’s perfectly normal for your teenager to be moody one minute and elated the next, but it can be confusing for parents to understand what is typical and what could be problematic.

Children and mental health issues they can obtain at an early age are not often talked about. Jokes, parodies, and memes abound regarding the teenage years, yet the very real facts about a young person’s mental health are no laughing matter.

According to government studies, almost 50% of adolescents in 2010 met the criteria for a clinical mental health disorder. These disorders include mood disorders, anxiety, depression, behavior problems and substance use disorders.

National Alliance on Mental Illness stated in 2017 that one in five children between the ages of 13 and 18 have been diagnosed or will be diagnosed with a mental illness.

Such staggering numbers are frightening. It is important to look at the causes and more importantly, the solutions to helping today’s youth with these problems. Left untreated, children who experience mental health problems are more likely to drop out of school, have run-ins with the law, or commit suicide.

What Are the Causes of Teenage Depression?

Teenagers today live in a world that is different than it was when their parents were the same age. As if the emotional and physical changes that are part of being an adolescent weren’t enough, the advent of social media presents new and different challenges.

Considerations such as peer pressure, physical changes resulting from puberty, and academic performance expectations can all breed feelings of sadness, irritability and overwhelm. For many teens, these feelings are normal and temporary. For others, though, they can be symptoms of depression.

Over the past decade, depression rates have risen 18%, with adolescents being particularly vulnerable to depression. While there is no one specific cause for this increase, research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science suggests that there is a correlation to the amount of time that teens spend on-line and depression rates.

How Parents and Caregivers Can Help

Taking away the computer or phone is not the only solution. While reducing time spent on-line – and time spent alone – can certainly help, encouraging teenagers to engage in activities with other people or to socialize with friends can help.

Having people to confide in – whether that person is a friend, teacher, or parent – can be a great resource for teens who want to discuss their feelings in a safe environment.  Oftentimes, just being able to express feelings of unhappiness or confusion can help with symptoms of depression. However, other adolescents may require treatment from a therapist, clinician, or biologic treatment program to help alleviate their symptoms so they can engage in regular activities.

Knowing the Signs of Depression Can Help

Sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish between normal teenage angst and youth depression. It’s perfectly normal for your teen to be moody every so often, and it’s just as normal for them to feel anxious or upset about certain events in their lives.

The difference between what is considered normal and behavior that requires intervention is generally best diagnosed by a medical professional.  As a parent, being observant of your child’s behavior and staying engaged with them on a daily basis can help you determine if a situation needs to be discussed with a professional.

Teenagers who begin showing signs of poor or declining performance in school, frequent nightmares, recurring temper tantrums, sadness that seems to linger, or constant worry about their friends or environment may be exhibiting signs of depression or a mental health issue.

While all of these behaviors may be within a perfectly normal range, any extreme examples, or any behavioral activity that seems abnormal, different, or out of character for your child should be discussed, ideally with your teen and/or a mental health professional.

When to Get Involved

Most pediatricians and family practitioners routinely scan for signs of mental health disorders during office visits by offering some mental health test teenagers can take. The publication Psychology Today publishes an at-home self diagnostic test for individuals who may be questioning if their emotional and cognitive behaviors are within a range that could require treatment.

While there is no established mental health test for teenagers or their parents, one of the best ways to help a child who may be struggling is to communicate with them on a daily basis. Talk with them about what their days are like in terms of expectations from friends and teachers. Learn about who their friends are or if there are teens at school who are bullying them or interfering with their routines.

If you are concerned about your teenager’s mental health, contact your family health care provider. They can help answer specific questions you may have, and can refer you to professionals who are experienced in the field.

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