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What to Do If You Suspect Your Teen is Silently Suffering

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There’s no doubt that the teenage years are stressful. Normal developmental issues related to independence, identity, peers, hormones and the pressure to achieve can be difficult enough—let alone when they collide to create mental health issues, too. It’s a common scenario among young teens and adults. In fact, of the one in five who live with a mental health condition, 50 percent developed the condition by 14 years of age, and 75 percent by the time they were 24 years old. That’s why it’s important to be educated about what to watch for and what to do if you think your teen is silently suffering.

Depression and social isolation in teens

When it comes to depression, it can be difficult for parents to figure out what’s typical teenage moodiness or signs of something more serious. Social isolation in teens is a big concern, since it can lead to worsening depression, and even thoughts of suicide. According to a recent blog post from the MSW@USC, the online MSW program from the University of Southern California, 17 percent of students between grades 9-12 had suicidal thoughts in 2013.

Unlike most adults—who can more easily fend for themselves—it can be scary and confusing for teens to feel like something is wrong. That’s why it’s critical that you give your teen the support they need if they express any concerns. They need to know that having a mental health condition isn’t unusual, isn’t their fault, and that they can live very full lives by connecting with others and getting the right kind of help.

How to spot a problem in your teen

Though each child is unique, there are common signs and symptoms you should be on the lookout for when it comes to teen depression and suicidal thinking. Here are just a few:

  • irritability or angry moods—which are more common signs of depression in teens than sadness.
  • aches and pains—that can’t be explained with a checkup.
  • sensitivity to criticism—that’s more extreme than usual.
  • withdrawing from others—though just some, not all people.
  • talking or joking about committing suicide—which should always be taken seriously.

What you can do to help

If you think your child is struggling, the good news is that there are effective ways for you to step in and help. These include teaching your child effective thinking and coping skills, involving your child’s doctor, creating a safety plan, and keeping contact information for doctors and therapists handy. Other ways you can help include:

  • encouraging social connection—by committing to more focused “face time” and encouraging activities with others.
  • making physical health a priority—by encouraging creative physical activities, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep.
  • knowing when to seek professional help—by exploring your options and involving your child in the plan of care.

There are many important resources you can access for more help, including:

Even if your child doesn’t seem to be struggling now, being educated and informed will help you reduce stigma and normalize mental health treatment for your child in case it’s ever needed.

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