“Is this normal?”
As a therapist who works with children and teens, I hear this question frequently. Adolescents go through changes in such a short period, teens (and parents) may wonder if they’re losing their grip.
Unfortunately, many teens don’t share these thoughts with their parents. This, however, can have long-term consequences, so it’s important we don’t ignore our teen’s mental health and the potential long-term suffering associated. Consider these facts from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
- About 1 in 5 people between ages 13 and 18 experience a severe mental disorder
- Half of all long-term mental illness begins by age 14
- Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people age 10-14, 2nd for those aged 15-24
A Teen’s Changing Brain
People assume puberty (and its surrounding awkwardness) is the only thing teens worry about. They often ignore the biggest influencer of mood and mental health — the brain.
As a teen’s body grows, so does their brain. During development it often changes in new, confusing ways — for both the teen and their parent. In early adolescence, teens tend to think in black-or-white, paying most attention to what’s immediately in front of them.
Later, when they’re a little older and their brain has finished developing, they may notice connections they hadn’t previously. Their thoughts turn toward the future and who they’d like to become. Friends become more important. They build their own values, often very different from those of parents or teachers.
In addition, some areas of the brain develop faster than others. Teenagers are just beginning to think about long-term consequences, even as they’re making sometimes confounding and impulsive decisions.
For example, your child may be determined to graduate on time, but choose to watch YouTube instead of studying for big tests. The unevenness of this development can lead to frustration from those who care most about their future — i.e., parents, guardians, and teachers.
Common Teen Mental Health Problems
Hormones present during puberty combine with these new ways of thinking, sometimes causing chaos in adolescent thought patterns. In addition to genetics and environmental factors, this is one reason why teens are at risk for numerous mental health or behavioral problems, such as:
- Eating Disorders
- Substance Abuse
- Legal Problems
- Psychotic Disorders
These changes are enough to make anyone feel a little unstable, so it’s important to pinpoint the difference between normal teenage stress and more serious problems.
Fear of Getting Help
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, up to a third of teens with mental illness don’t get the help they need. Why?
Aside from the stigma mental illness carries, many teens worry about who will find out about their problems if they get help. They often don’t want parents or friends to know. Although teens sometimes underestimate their parents’ ability to help them work through their issues, many do in fact need help from an unbiased counselor outside the family. Additionally, while parents or guardians may feel a sense of shame that their teen needs help — that they’ve failed in some ways as a parent — this is most often not the case. Mental health conditions do not discriminate and struggle is not indicative of moral failure. The important thing is getting them help.
Depending on state of residence, teens can sometimes get mental health treatment without their parents’ permission. In most states (each state is different and there are exceptions) their counsellor will keep issues confidential — unless they’re a danger to themselves or others. Teen safety is the number one priority for counselor and mental health professionals and it’s important that you give your teen the space to work out issues that may feel too close or too uncomfortable to discuss with a close family member.
Talkspace for Teens requires a parent or guardian’s consent, but the process is streamlined so that your teen should be able to receive the care of a licensed counselor within just a few hours of signing up. Talkspace for Teens also employs banking-grade security to ensure your teen’s security. And rest assured, all of the 3,000+ counselors are experienced, licensed mental health professionals who have been through Talkspace’s rigorous vetting, credentialing, and onboarding process.
Regardless of the rules in your state, pay attention to the following warning signs, which may signal you should seek help for your teen:
- Their symptoms distract them in many settings — struggles are on their mind no matter what they do.
- Grades or job performance get worse and stay that way over weeks or months.
- Relationships suffer. They can’t get along with loved ones or they isolate themself.
- Their moods feel out of control. Their usual coping strategies — the ways they deal with issues — no longer help to control their anger, worry, or sadness.
- They take more risks. Exploring new things, including alcohol, drugs, or sex, is mostly common, but behavior that puts them or others in danger should be a warning sign.
- They often think about hurting themselves or others. Many teens experience such thoughts occasionally, but they need immediate help if they can’t control them or they want to act on them.
- They hear or see things others can’t, or their thinking gets confused or paranoid. Although rare, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, or fear that others are trying to harm them can be signs of a serious medical problem.
Mental Health Resources for Teens
Parents or guardians usually understand and care more than kids think, but in some cases, parents might not be the only resource they need. It’s important for them to talk to family members they trust, but if they don’t feel comfortable doing so, there are options:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with text option.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Help Line Also available 24/7 with text option.
- SAMHSA Behavioral Health Services Locator Finds providers in your area; offers a 24/7 hotline.
- Set to Go Intended for people moving to college, but includes mental health information helpful to all teens.
- School resources. Guidance counselors or school nurses may be able to talk with you confidentially at school, or tell you about other options near you.
- Your doctor’s office. Many doctors have someone on call to answer questions. You can call anonymously, ask if they see teens without parental consent, or ask for local provider names.
Talkspace for Teens is also an inexpensive, convenient way to access behavioral health care. Teens can send unlimited text, video, picture, and audio messages to their counselor from an app on their phone or from a web browser — anytime, anywhere. There’s no need to schedule appointments or commute to an office, and they won’t have to miss school or activities.
Additionally, a recent study of Talkspace users showed that 93% of participants reported improvement on their toughest problems in as little as 2 months and 90% said they preferred Talkspace to traditional counseling. In addition to the effectiveness and convenience, Talkspace for Teens is also about 80% more affordable than brick-and-mortar counseling.
Stress is normal throughout adolescence, but it’s important to get your teen help if they’re struggling. Just like homework, a job, or college taking care of one’s mental health now is a great investment in the future.