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6 Warning Signs For Teen Mental Health, and What To Do About Them

It’s no secret that the pandemic is an isolating time, however together with this isolation comes an increased risk of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges for teens.

An October 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association showed that Gen Z teens ages 13–17 are facing greater uncertainty, stress, and showing symptoms of depression. However, few of us understand how to spot the signs of when a teen is having a bad day (or week) or is genuinely going through a hard time.


Here are some potential warning signs, and of course, resources and ways to help them.


What are the Warning Signs?

1. Irregular Sleep

Well, teens are notorious for sleeping at strange times, but take note if they start sleep sleeping extremely late, early, or seem to be sleeping all the time. Lack of sleep could indicate anxiety while oversleeping could be a sign of depression.


2. Over or Under-Eating

If your teen is over or under eating, this could be a sign of stress or depression. Sometimes teens seek to control their food intake when they feel ashamed about their bodies or out of control in other areas of their lives. If you are concerned that their dietary needs aren’t being met, consider speaking to a doctor or doing a blood test to look for nutritional or vitamin deficiencies.


3. Excessive Screen Time

While some of us cope with isolation through hobbies, socializing, and activities, others shut down, spending endless hours on their phones or watching TV. While it is normal to spend more time on social medial given our isolation, make sure that the endless scrolling, the negativity of the news, and the superficiality of social media isn’t draining your teen and exacerbating feelings of anxiety or isolation.


4. Withdrawing Socially

Sometimes it just feels easier to not engage, but take note if this becomes a pattern for your teen. Are they still involved with their activities and extracurriculars? Are they still in contact with their friends – or have these connections slipped away? If your teen complains that, “it’s not the same anymore,” and has stopped their routine or socially isolated, this could be a warning sign of depression or emotional distress.


5. Anger, Irritability, and Mood Swings

If your generally balanced teen starts exploding over small things, they’re likely dealing with stress or anxiety somewhere in their life. Pay attention to whether they’re simply having a bad day, or whether their anger or rapidly changing moods are becoming a pattern.


6. Poor Academic Performance

Sudden drop in grades can be warning for teen mental healthSure, grades can go up and down, but if your teen who normally gets A’s and B’s starts getting C’s then there’s clearly something happening. Dig deep and try to understand. Do they fail to speak or participate in classes? Are they missing fundamental concepts from class? Or have they been failing to turn in their homework or doing poorly on tests? All of these can be indicators that your teen needs support academically and emotionally.



Source: Pexels


Seven Ways You Can Help Them

 1. Let Them Know You’re There For Them

Many teens will be reluctant to open up, even if you sense something is wrong.  Actually, stop and wait after asking “how are you doing”. It’s important they know that you really care and are paying attention, and when they open up, don’t immediately try to ‘fix’ them or the situation. Instead, ask them questions, make a kind gesture, ask them what they want to do, and crucially let them know that no matter how crazy things are with your work that you are always available to talk whenever they’re ready.


2. Talk About Feelings and Where They Come From

One of my students recently joined a new club at school, they were able to meet many new friendly faces in form connections deeper than in many of their classes. Times like this, doing well on an assignment, baking a cake, more than ever these small moments are worth celebrating and discussing! 

On the other hand, harder feelings like anger, embarrassment, or disappointment, are just as important to talk about. Discuss these feelings and try to help them identify the people, places, and events that cause these negative feelings, whether they stem from a negative friend, a class they struggling in, or stressed about the future. Be sure to ask your teen both specific and open-ended questions to help them learn to identify root causes.


3. Reach Out To Others Who Care

Consider reaching out to your teen’s teachers, mentors, and coaches to see what they’ve observed and ask if they can offer support. Sometimes your teen will show up differently in these outside spaces and express themselves differently than they do at home, and having another trusted adult and go a long way to helping your teen feel less isolated


4. Practice Positive Parenting

When teens mess up, whether it’s forgetting to do a chore or failing a test, it’s easy to jump to blaming and shaming this behavior. Yet those doing the worst often need the most help. So while it’s important to correct bad behaviors, get curious and ask your teen what went wrong and ask them to come up with ideas for how to improve, rather than just telling them what to do.


5. Develop Healthy Routines

Develop healthy routines. It’s very important that your teen has structure and routine, so do not let them stay in bed in their pajamas for class! Encourage them to actually schedule check-ins with friends or relatives rather than waiting for social interactions to happen. Healthy routines can include everything from setting up family Zoom calls or a virtual game-night to practicing healthy habits like going for daily walks, calling friends, or meditating with an app like Headspace, Calm, or UCLA’s free meditation app.


6. Consider Professional Help

We shouldn’t have to handle depression, anxiety, or other difficult emotions all on our own. It’s important to consider seeking professional counseling help for your teen so they can get the support they need. The National Institute of Mental Health recommends seeking outside help if your teen shows severe warning signs that last for more than two weeks. While many of us might say that our ‘situation isn’t that bad’, it’s better to get help proactively rather than wait until things get worse before seeking support.


7. Practice Self-Care

One of the best ways to model balance and wellness for your teen is by taking the time to care for yourself. Whether it’s going for walks, doing hobbies, or taking much-needed breaks, creating a balance for ourselves models good behavior and gives us the energy needed to be better parents

Source: Pexels



Concluding Thoughts

take time to understand your teens mental health and concernsNow that you know the warning signs of irregular sleep, over or under-eating, excessive screen time, withdrawing socially, anger, irritability, and mood swings, and poor academic performance, it’s easier to know whether your teen is having a tough day, or might be facing something bigger. More importantly, remember that whether your teen talks to you frequently or has a harder time connecting, they do appreciate your presence guiding them through this unprecedented time – whether they say it or not.


That’s why it’s crucial that we practice positive parenting, reach out to others who care, develop healthy routines, consider professional help, practice self-care, and importantly, let them know we’re there. Ultimately, by making a genuine effort to connect with your teen during these trying times you’ll be able to cultivate positive habits and help them develop their inner strength and resilience.


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