We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.
You know the signs that something is physically wrong with your child. However, could you recognize adolescent mental health warning signs?
It’s sometimes challenging to distinguish between teenage moodiness and severe trouble. However, there are clues. Here are eight mental health warning signs that you should not ignore.
1. Talk About Death or Dying
Teenagers are in the springtime of their life. Please do not dismiss statements like, “I wish I were dead,” as a cry for attention, nothing else. They may well be reaching out in the only way they know how, and your job is to take threats of self-harm seriously and get them the help they need.
You can reach out to the National Suicide Hotline — please ensure your children have access to this resource. They can also reach text intervention help by sending “start” to 741741.
Please get your child help. Even if you lack health insurance, the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can assist those under 19 with coverage. Check with your state’s department of human services. You can often enroll online.
2. Giving Away Beloved Items
Another adolescent mental health warning sign you should never ignore is giving away beloved items. Teens who are feeling suicidal often exhibit this behavior, figuring they won’t need it where they’re going. They leave it as a remembrance.
Your first step when dealing with a possibly suicidal teen is to listen and validate their feelings. Use “I” statements, such as, “I hear you saying that you feel there’s no point in being here anymore, and I’m concerned. I would like to talk about this more with you.”
Please try to refrain from reacting with anger or fear. Statements like “suicide is selfish” only make your depressed teenager feel worse about themselves. Likewise, offering a fix for their problems can invalidate how overwhelming their issue is to them. Listen patiently and get them the resources they need.
It’s sometimes challenging to tell if your teenager is withdrawing or just exerting independence by asking for more privacy. Behaviors such as a 16-year-old wanting to shut (not lock) their bedroom door aren’t necessarily cause for concern — unless they remain there all day without interacting with others.
Teens with depression tend to withdraw, ruminating on their problems. You should intervene, as such negative thought spirals can damage your child’s self-esteem.
Instead, ramp up your efforts to include your teenager in group activities. Encourage them to spend time with friends and provide safe opportunities to mingle. They might sulk at first, but the interaction will benefit them.
4. Sudden and Intense Mood Swings
Your hormones rage during your adolescent years. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for teens to have mood swings — when should you be concerned?
Trouble arises when these maladaptive behavioral patterns cause your teen to struggle to perform daily tasks or get along in their world. For example, fighting, skipping school or indulging in drug and alcohol use to mask their pain require immediate intervention.
5. Difficulty Performing Daily Tasks
Nearly all teens complain about going to school sometimes. However, it’s time for intervention if your child refuses to get out of bed day after day.
Likewise, you might notice resistance to performing household chores. You should expect a little mild grumbling and rebelliousness. However, pay attention if they start slacking at tasks they once enjoyed, like caring for a beloved pet.
6. Changes in Eating Habits
Society still places an inordinate value on physical appearance, and teens feel the pressure. As many as one in ten teenage girls develops an eating disorder. Anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating also affect males.
It’s natural for adolescents to experiment with different eating patterns like veganism. However, pay attention if your teen embarks on a diet you consider overly strict. Instead of condemning them, ask about the reasons driving the behavior. If they say things like, “Because I’m so fat,” it may be time for professional help.
Changes in eating patterns can likewise signal anxiety or depression. Many anxious people eat too much or nothing when their cortisol levels get out of whack.
7. Changes in Sleeping Habits
Another adolescent mental health warning sign is changes in sleep habits. Teenagers require more rest than adults, about nine hours a night. They also tend to stay up later and sleep in more.
However, look for behaviors like staying in bed during the day when there are other things to do. Another sign is frequent daytime naps that last longer than 30 minutes.
8. Signs of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Teenage drug and alcohol abuse can have a devastating effect on their developmental trajectory and overall health. Unfortunately, many parents mistake the warning signs as a normal part of puberty. Please remain alert to the following behaviors and seek intervention when necessary:
- A change in their peer group
- Changes in grooming habits
- Deteriorating relationships with family and friends
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Declining academic performance and skipping school
The above signs can also signify other mental health problems — please don’t jump automatically to substance abuse. However, these behaviors require intervention regardless of the cause.
Don’t Ignore These Adolescent Mental Health Warning Signs
The teenage years are a turbulent time with many changes — and living through a pandemic hasn’t made things less stressful. Please remain alert to these adolescent mental health warning signs and seek help for your child when necessary.