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  • Writer's pictureErica Tatum-Sheade, LCSW

Why Teen Mental Health Matters

Over the last few months I’m sure that like me, you’ve had the opportunity to get to know the people in your home (like *REALLY* get to know). Would you believe that calls to our office for teen mental health concerns have doubled in the last few months? Mental health should always be a priority for anyone, but especially for parents of teens. Making your teen's mental health a priority helps set them up to be successful adults – and isn’t that what all of us parents of teenagers want? Why is teen mental health so important? Adolescence is a time of immense change – Dr. Daniel Siegel, in his book “Brainstorm,” describes what happens during the period of adolescence as “the work.” Dr. Siegel describes this work that adolescents are doing as:  “testing of boundaries, the passion to explore what is unknown and exciting, and setting the stage for the development of core character traits that will enable adolescents to go on to lead great lives of adventure and purpose.” Imagine what it’s like for your teen – going to bed one day as a “kid,” and waking up the next morning flooded with all these new thoughts, and feelings, and HORMONES, and knowing that now they are on the path to being an adult! Sometimes exciting, sometimes scary, feeling on top of the world one day and at the bottom of a valley the next… What we know is that during the ages 12-18 there is an increase in mental health difficulties for teens, on top of (or maybe because of) dealing with all that comes with adolescence. According to NAMI:

  1. 50% of mental health concerns present by age 14

  2. One in six children age 6-17 experience the symptoms of a mental health disorder each year

  3. Suicide is the second highest cause of death among people age 10-34

  4. 17% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide  

In Arizona, where I am located, reports:

  1. 36% of high school students report depression symptoms

  2. 11% have attempted suicide

  3. 5% have ended up inpatient or under medical care due to that suicide attempt

These numbers are downright scary when you also factor in health care disparities and lack of access to proper mental health care, which can lead to an under-reporting of treatment and symptoms.  We are in a crisis, our teens need us, and it’s time that we put their mental health first. What to Look For Signs Your Child May Be Experiencing A Mental Health Concern

Withdrawing: If you notice that your child is wanting to spend more time alone or no longer waiting to participate in family activities, check-in with them.  Adolescence is a period of growth and needs some allowance for more independence, but it if it is going beyond occasionally wanting to spend alone time, make sure to check in with them.

Major changes in sleeping and eating habits: Yes, teenagers like to sleep. But if you notice major changes in their sleeping (either too much or too little), they may be experiencing heightened levels of anxiety or depression.

Loss of interest in activities: When we are dealing with depression, we are also often dealing with difficulties of meaning and purpose. If your child is no longer interested in the activities they loved, this is a red flag to lean into them and to ask them what support they need. Mood Shifts: Teenagers have mood swings – this is normal. But if you notice major shifts (extreme highs and extreme lows), it may be time to schedule an appointment to make sure things are okay.

Changes in appearance: Okay, we can all remember the tragic outfits we wore during our teen years as we were exploring our identity.  Poor fashion choice is not necessarily a sign of mental health concerns, but a decline in hygiene or drastic changes in weight can be an outward sign that your child is dealing with some heavy stuff.

Now you know what to look for stay tuned for part two on what to do if you believe your child is experiencing a mental health concern. #teenmentalhealth

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