sad teenage girl

A Parent's Guide to Mental Health Issues


Sober Recovery Expert Author

sad teenage girl

Many mental illnesses manifest in later stages of childhood or young adult development. One day your child can be functioning normally and, suddenly, become a stranger to his or her family.

The onset of mental illness or substance use/abuse is common during the mid-to-late stages of teenage development. Kids at these ages are vulnerable, both emotionally and physically, to these conditions. Genetic causes are possible, as with all mental illnesses. If you or a family member suffer from any mental conditions, there is a chance your children will have a genetic predisposition toward the same illness.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, take some time to be informed of mental illnesses your child may or may not be suffering from.

Drug or Alcohol Abuse Warning Signs

Paying attention to behavior and attitude changes is the first step to recognizing symptoms. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for in case your teen is suffering from substance abuse.

  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils smaller or larger than normal
  • Changes in sleeping patterns or appetite; sudden weight gain or loss
  • Loss of interest or sudden changes in personal grooming habits
  • Lack of coordination; increase in accidents/injuries
  • Missing school or classes, trouble in school or failing grades
  • Sudden changes in activities, hobbies or loss of motivation
  • New friends whose behaviors are suspect
  • Disrespect, attitude changes; moodiness
  • Missing money, personal belongings; stealing
  • Lying about where they are going, with whom or what they are doing
  • Frequently missing scheduled events with family; withdrawn, antisocial behaviors
  • Acting out, angry outbursts; sudden changes in mood and personality

Other symptoms may be present but these are some of the early signs of drug and alcohol use.

Schizophrenia Warning Signs

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that shows its first symptoms between ages 16 to 30. Young men tend to show symptoms at earlier ages. Symptoms are broken into 3 categories: positive, negative, and cognitive.

Positive symptoms are characteristics added to the person’s personality and oftentimes denoted by the following:

  • Delusions: False beliefs that someone is watching them, that they are someone else, or other grandiose ideations.
  • Hallucinations: Seeing, hearing, or feeling anything that is not real. These may be referred to as audio or visual hallucinations.
  • Distorted thoughts: Disjointed or disconnected thought processes or nonsensical reasoning.

Negative symptoms are characteristics that are lost from the person’s personality and oftentimes denoted by the following:

  • Lack of social interaction
  • Extreme loss of interest
  • Loss of drive or motivation
  • Disconnection from emotional responses

There are also cognitive symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Common ones are the following:

  • Poor decision making and lack of reasoning capabilities
  • Trouble with the focus and concentration
  • Inability to retain information after just receiving it

Bipolar Disorder Warning Signs

This mental illness is characterized by two separate states; mania or “high” stages and depressed or “low” stages. A person who has bipolar disorder may fluctuate (cycle) between the two extremes. The symptoms are more severe than those of mood changes most people experience and can lead to suicide.

Mood and Behavior Changes (Mania):

  • Long periods of “high” or exaggerated happiness
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Talkative, racing thoughts and actions
  • Short attention span
  • Hyperactivity
  • Sleeplessness
  • Impulsive or high-risk behaviors
  • Grandiose or unrealistic beliefs about self

Mood and Behavior Changes (Depression):

  • Long periods of sadness, hopelessness or despondence
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities and hobbies
  • Loss of decision making, concentration or memory
  • Feelings of restlessness and irritability
  • Changes in eating, sleeping patterns
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression Warning Signs

These may be similar to the depressed states of bipolar disorder. Children or teens with depression show signs that are somewhat different from those in adult depression.

Some symptoms to specifically look for in children/teens:

  • Complaints of illness
  • Excessive worrying
  • Refusal or trouble with school attendance
  • Clinging to a parent or other adult
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Lethargic or sulking behavior
  • Disinterest in previously normal activity

What to Do as a Parent

If you suspect that your child is suffering from any of the above, do not feel hopeless. You can do something about this. Here are a few options to help your child in need:

  • Talk to your child about the changes you see in their attitudes and behaviors. Do NOT chastise or punish them but build a bridge of concern and understanding to keep lines of communication open.
  • Seek professional help for your child, even if they insist it is “nothing.”
  • Make sure mental health professionals are part of the conversation. While your medical doctor may know some symptoms of mental illness, it is best to work with those who are fully trained in current psychological and/or psychiatric remedies and medications for the specific illness being treated.
  • Know that some signs may be caused by mental illness and some may be masked and/or caused by substance use. This is not an unusual occurrence with children. Do not attempt to diagnose the condition on your own. The symptoms can be conflicting and confusing. Seek professional help.

If you or someone you know is seeking professional help, please visit our directory of mental health resources or call 800-772-8219 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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