Understanding Your Teens: Puberty or Mental Health Problem?

Is it puberty—or a mental health problem?

Parents, if you can’t make sense of your teen’s angsty behavior, look out for these red flags.

When your teen has been mopey for weeks on end, refuses to socialize with family and friends, oversleeps or stays up all night, and eats too much or too little, do you charge it to puberty and the hormonal changes that go with it—or do you suspect that your angsty, emo son or daughter has a mental health problem?

As parents, we tend to chalk it up to the former; after all, we were once teenagers too, and can now look back at all the “drama” of that phase in our lives with a light-hearted chuckle. Unfortunately, shifting hormones may not always be the cause of your teen’s immense and unexplainable sadness, and for some parents, this realization comes too late.

To raise awareness on mental health this World Suicide Prevention Day, Anna Josefina Vazquez-Genuino, MD of Makati Medical Center’s Section of Psychiatry, identifies the mental health red flags exhibited by teens, and what parents can do to support their kids through this dark and trying time.

Warning signs: Clinical Depression

Warning signs. When is it clinical depression—and when is it just a case of “the blues”? Dr. Vazquez- Genuino says, “Admittedly it can be hard to distinguish, but the following behavior indicates it’s more serious than simply waking up on the wrong side of the bed.” According to Dr. Vazquez-Genuino, these are the clinical signs and symptoms of clinical depression that are present almost every day for at least two weeks that may require psychiatric consultation based on the DSM V (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by American Psychiatric Association):

  • Depressed mood most of the day
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities
  • Extreme eating habits (increase or loss of appetite that may cause weight gain or loss)
  • Increased or decreased sleep
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive/inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty concentration that may lead to a decline in school performance
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide with or without a plan for committing suicide

Other red flags may include the following: low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, misuse and abuse of drugs and alcohol, multiple body aches and pains that are excuses for not going to school, delinquent or belligerent or quarrelsome behavior.

Sometimes when a teenager has been depressed for several weeks then suddenly becomes cheerful, this should be further evaluated as this may actually be a sign that he has found a solution to his/her problem (i.e. by committing suicide) which should never be taken lightly but should be immediately referred to a psychiatrist for therapy.

What parents must do

What should parents do? If you’re still unsure about the state of your teen’s mental health, consult with your child’s pediatrician, child and adolescent psychologist or psychiatrist. Describe the behavior that troubles you and ask what you should do. Talk to family and friends who may have had similar problems with their children. Ask the observations of your teen’s teachers and guidance counselor regarding your child. These people may know things about your teen that you don’t; they could offer advice, comfort and support.

Dr. Vazquez- Genuino explains, “Seeking professional help for your teen’s mental health is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, it is a brave and positive step towards getting better!” she continues. “Ask for recommendations and don’t just settle for any doctor. What works for one teen may not work for yours, and for something as sensitive as your child’s mental health, it’s important to build a relationship with a professional whom you and your teen are comfortable with and trust.”

At home, avoid discussing marital conflicts in front of your children or within their hearing distance. Also avoid:

  • family arguments
  • pressuring them regarding their academic performance
  • comparing your child with yourself when you were his/ her age, other siblings or others
  • discouraging words, derogatory comments, or judgmental labels

If there’s ever a time your teen needs you, it’s now. Take the time to talk to him/ her, show your care and concern, and reassure your teen of your love and acceptance. Try your best to be more patient and understanding of your teenager. Each child is different. Don’t think of him/ her as a problem but as someone who needs your help and attention.

Get to know your teenager as you would like to know a friend. Keep calm and composed, as well as try your best not to show any negative feelings such as worry and anger as that will just confirm your teen’s desire or decision to unburden you by killing himself/ herself. Never leave your child at home especially if there is a risk for suicide.

“More importantly, assure your teen that you are there for him or her, and that things will improve once you get through this challenging time together,” Dr. Vazquez -Genuino concludes.

For more information, please contact MakatiMed On-Call at +632.8888 999, email mmc@makatimed.net.ph, or visit www.makatimed.net.ph.

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