What’s the difference between normal teen angst and more serious emotional issues? Here are five ways to tell if your child needs help
Sulking, outbursts of anger, slamming doors and hiding out in their bedrooms. Thanks to the rush of hormones that accompanies puberty, this is all normal behaviour for a teenager.
But could your teen be showing early warning signs of anxiety and depression?
According to MQ — the mental health research charity — 50 per cent of mental health problems in adult life take root before the age of 15.
Worse still, three quarters of young people with depression and anxiety are not being identified or given help.
As a parent, how can you tell the difference between what’s normal and what’s not?
GP Samantha Joseph, a specialist in adolescent health, says: ‘Being a teenager in today’s society brings lots of pressures, and we are seeing more teens struggling with mental health than ever before.
‘It’s important for parents to identify behaviour changes and to understand the difference between typical angst and more serious emotional issues.’
If your teen shows a number of these types of behaviour over an extended period, it’s time to seek help…
Feeling moody vs Feeling hopeless
Teenagers may start to question who they are and how they fit in, so it’s normal for them to be grumpier than usual or even irritable and sarcastic. But if they are consistently sad, feeling low the majority of the time, or showing signs of hopelessness, it could be a cause for concern.
Dr Joseph says: ‘Being moody can be a normal daily emotion for most teenagers. However, when these emotions last longer than usual and there are no signs of positivity, it may be that your child is experiencing anxiety.
‘They may no longer find enjoyment in things they used to, might be more nervous around people, or even socially isolate themselves. If this is happening, speak to your GP.’
Spending time alone vs Shutting themselves off
Teens can find the demands of studying and socialising draining, so they might prefer to be alone in their bedroom.
Separation is an important part of a teen’s development, but if they no longer enjoy seeing friends, or shun all social activity, it could be time to act.
Dr Joseph says: ‘More teens are spending time in their rooms, often chatting on online forums. You don’t need to worry, unless they are shutting themselves away for prolonged periods. Cyber bullying is also something to be aware of.
‘When checking on your teen, be careful not to come across as overbearing, or like you’re monitoring their every action.
‘If you’re worried, speak to your GP — sometimes teenagers confide better in a professional.’
Sleeping more vs Sleeping too long
During puberty, teens go through a physical and emotional maturation, meaning they need more sleep. But if your teenager is sleeping more than 10 hours a night, or is unable to sleep, there could be more to it than just hormonal changes.
Dr Joseph says: ‘If your teenager is sleeping throughout the day or making excuses to lie down instead of enjoying an activity, there may be a problem.
‘Low mood or anxiety can cause sleeping problems, such as difficulty getting to sleep, early morning wakening, or sleeping too much in the day. Suggest a relaxing hot bath, no caffeine and no late-night TV.’
Change in appetite vs Consistent over or undereating
It’s not unusual for teenagers to experience a loss of appetite, and many may find they want to eat more during periods of growth or following strenuous exercise. But a long-lasting disinterest in food could lead to unhealthy weight loss, and those who constantly overeat are at risk of obesity.
Dr Joseph says: ‘Pressures from peers at school and online have certainly accelerated eating disorders and teenagers’ perception of body image.
‘If you notice your son or daughter avoiding family meals, rejecting food, covering up their body with more clothing, or making negative comments about their weight, it could be
a sign of undereating.
‘If they won’t talk to you, try encouraging them to talk to a doctor or an eating disorder charity, such as Beat.’
Feeling self-conscious vs Feeling constantly anxious
It’s normal for teenagers to feel like they are being socially evaluated, which can make them feel self-conscious. But this can sometimes spiral into anxiety.
Dr Joseph says: ‘Anxiety can show itself as being nervous, avoiding social situations, or feeling on edge and panicky all the time.
‘It can also produce physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling and feeling faint.’
Edited by Julia Sidwell
Worried about a child or young person? Call the mental health charity Young Minds’ free helpline on 0800 802 5544