Teen Mental Health Awareness

Bored teenager using mobile phone

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Is the current crop of teenagers experiencing worse mental health than teenagers at any other time in the past?

It goes without saying that the current pace of social and technological change is challenging to young minds. The internet, social media, smartphones, the threat of war, and a frightening political climate can all combine to turn typical teenage angst into actual mental illness. How do you tell the difference between natural moodiness and when something is seriously wrong?

Typical Teen Angst Or Something More?

Teens can have a short fuse and lose their temper quickly, especially when they reach that phase when they naturally need to separate from their family members and think that they don’t have enough space or privacy.

This healthy and normal separation process starts in early adolescence, and it’s when parents notice that their child starts to feel embarrassed by them and wants to spend lots more time with their peers and not much time at all with family.

Seeing your teen spend hours at a time on the internet or locked away in their room messaging or phoning friends can be worrying. More worrying is how defensive they may become when you ask them what they’ve been doing or who they were communicating with.

Believe it or not, this behavior is absolutely normal. Teens naturally need to separate from the family to practice (and enjoy) greater independence in preparation for adulthood. It’s a healthy reaction to act defensively to attain this goal.

At this critical phase of life, you’ll see that even though your teen might cringe at the thought of spending time with their family, he or she will still be able to enjoy passing the time with friends socially and take part in typical school and extracurricular activities away from home.

Signs Of Trouble

However, If you notice that your child isn’t engaging in healthy activities or socially with friends or is continually sad, angry or disconnected; his or her behavior has become unhealthy and could require some kind of intervention.

It can seem impossible to tell the difference between the signs of depression and the usual dark moods that every teenager may experience at times. But, if you become concerned that your child could be silently suffering emotional issues or even behaving in a way that raises concerns; you might want to try speaking with other parents or organizations to compare your child’s behavior their peer group. If you’re still concerned after that, then it may be a good idea to speak with your pediatrician to find out if a mental health professional can offer more help.

Teen Depression Really Is More Prevalent

Among US 12 to 20 year olds, the chance of experiencing major depression over the course of the year has significantly increased according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This survey asks the same structured questions every year to discover changing health trends in the US population. The survey also found that girls experienced a steeper increase in depression than boys, and it was even more severe in the 18 to 20 year old age group.

Researchers tried adjusting for the frequency of drug and alcohol abuse, but the trend was still apparent. So, the increased frequency can’t be blamed on substance abuse or drinking. Next, they examined household composition; whether there was one, both or neither parent present. Household composition didn’t have any influence either.

Listen More And Talk Less

While your first impulse may be to offer advice based on your own experiences or give a speech about how they should deal with their feelings – the best idea may be to simply listen to him or her. Depression and anxiety can make a child or teen withdraw into themselves; instead of telling them how they should feel, try asking them to tell you what they feel.

Once they feel comfortable telling you what’s going on in their heads, you may be surprised at what you hear. Regardless, you’ll understand why your child feels the way they do and maybe even what made them feel that way.

Teen Suicide Rate Increasing For 10 To 14 Year Olds

The second biggest cause of death among adolescents between 15 to 19 years of age is suicide. Only accidents kill more children in that age group. And, that rate of death has actually been decreasing since the 90s. But, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that, according to the most recent data available, the risk of death by suicide is the same as the risk of dying in a traffic accident for children from 10 to 14 years old.

Studies show that 90 percent of teen suicide attempts are preceded by significant warning signs. While any particular warning sign doesn’t mean your child is going to attempt suicide, you mustn’t ever ignore it, either.

  • Personality changes like withdrawing, feeling sad, anxious, irritable, or exhausted.

  • Behavior changes: a disintegration of social relationships, deterioration of school performance, reduced involvement in normal activities.

  • Insomnia, nightmares, and excessive sleeping.

  • Appetite loss, weight loss or overeating

  • Erratic behavior, self-harming or hurting others

There are actions you can take to help your child. Guard your teen against the risk of committing suicide by:

  • Interacting positively with your child by giving consistent positive feedback and compliments for doing well.

  • Get your child more involved in positive activities like clubs, sports or hobbies.

  • Keep track of your teen’s whereabouts, and their texting and social media use to prevent problems like cyberbullying from becoming an issue.

  • Keep track of your child’s social environment and regularly speak with other parents in your community to stay aware of potentially harmful fads or behaviors.

  • Speak regularly with his or her teachers to make sure you’re aware of any issues at school.

  • Communicate with your child about any concerns you may have, or specifically ask if he or she has suicidal thoughts.

  • Finally, talk about your concerns with a pediatrician to find out if you should get a referral to a mental health professional.

Smartphone Addiction

According to a study published in 2017 by researchers at Korea University, and reported in a press release from the Radiological Society of North America, there is an observable imbalance in the brain chemistry of children and teens addicted to using their smartphones.

There are certain personality traits that could mean your child is more susceptible to smartphone addiction. These traits can include:

  • Being worrisome, fearful, pessimistic, and shy.

  • They can have altered reward dependence; your teen tends to be dependent on rewards associated with using the internet or a smartphone, instead of more natural rewards from activities like spending time with friends or family, doing well in school, or enjoying a (non-digital) hobby.

  • They have low self-esteem.

  • They don’t cooperate well with others.

Lead researcher, Dr. Hyung Suk Seo, told Medical News Today that, “There’s more danger in this addiction than just the potential of wasting a lot of time sharing memes and viral videos. In fact, teens who are addicted to their phones and the Internet have a chemical imbalance in their brains that predispose them to depression and anxiety.”

Social Media And Cyber-Bullying

Other reports have associated with social media use with depressive symptoms. There’s also significant evidence that cyberbullying could be connected to an increase in feelings of depression (especially among girls), that may increase the risk of suicide.

Research shows that:

  • 92 percent of teens claim that they spend time online every day and 24 percent state that they’re online almost continually.

  • More than half of teens are on the internet multiple times per day.

  • 94 percent of teens go on the Internet using their smartphones at least once per day.

  • For 71 percent of teens, Facebook is the most often visited social media website, followed by 52 percent for Instagram and 44 percent for Snapchat.

A report in the journal JAMA Pediatrics states that cyberbullying and depression go hand-in-hand. Ten studies were examined to find the link between social media bullying and depression in young people. Every one of them found a connection.

Although you may feel at a loss about how to guide your children away from the harmful effects of a social media obsession; taking away the smartphone could make things worse for particular children. If you find out that cyberbullying or social media addiction is causing your teen depression or excess anxiety, it may be best to get professional advice from a medical or psychiatric professional about the right way to handle it.