“Our son…cares about himself and others around him…He has regained hope and faith in life…And as a family, we have a huge increase in the positive interaction and time we share. Thank you for giving us so much.”

- Headway Client

Headway Minute

March 15, 2012 

Adolescent Mental Health

Mental health is how we think, feel and act as we cope with life. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood through adulthood.

The issues and solutions around adolescent mental health have been the focus of Headway's communications and outreach efforts during the first quarter of this year. Dr. Hal, our Clinical Director and Licensed Psychologist, recently blogged about several important adolescent topics. (Check out Dr. Hal's Blog) As the quarter comes to a close, I want to provide an overview of adolescent mental health and provide some information that may be useful in gauging how the adolescents and young adults in your life are doing.

The teenage years are a time of transition from childhood into adulthood. Teens often struggle between being dependent on their parents while having a strong desire to be independent. They may also feel overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes they are going through.Being a teenager is hard. The stress from wanting to be liked, do well in school, get along with family and begin to make decisions about the future takes quite a toll. Whether you are a teenager, parent, Uncle, Aunt, teacher, employer or friend, you can't avoid the stress, the pressure, the drama, or the accompanying energy teenagers experience.

Worrying about your teen is normal. The rollercoaster of emotions, the physical changes, the challenges with friends seem overwhelming at times. Emotional highs and lows are real and a normal part of the lives of adolescents. Remember that teens may experiment with values, ideas, hairstyles and clothing in order to define themselves. This is normal behavior that shouldn't be terribly concerning.

For many adolescents, feelings come and go faster than many can believe. For some, their range of emotions narrows and they get stuck in prolonged periods of sadness. They may feel hopeless or worthless. It is during these periods when those who love teenagers get worried. They may ask themselves, "Are these signs of a mental health problem?" The answer is not a clear yes or no. Factors such as age, gender, social life, grades, decision making, and behavior all have to be considered. Many adolescents - with the help of friends, parents, faith and activities - are able to navigate their way through. However, some need additional supports and skills in order to move forward.

When do adolescents need help?

Staying mentally healthy is not always easy. This is especially true for adolescents. Signs indicating that adolescents may benefit from some professional help include:

  • Frequently feeling or acting very angry or very worried

  • Feeling grief for a long time after a loss

  • Feeling like they cannot control what their mind is thinking

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Using alcohol or drugs

  • Exhibiting obsessive behaviors such as hand washing, exercising, scratching

  • Changes in eating habits: Continuous dieting, binge eating, notable weight changes

  • Ending hobbies/activities without replacing them

  • Changing friends, losing friends, marked change in the amount of time spent with friends

  • Destroying property; hurting other people

  • Repeatedly having unresolved run-ins with various authority figures

  • Doing reckless things that could harm themselves or others

What can I do to help my adolescent?

Communicating your love for your child is the single most important thing you can do. Children decide how they feel about themselves in large part by how their parents and friends react to them. For this reason, it's important for parents to help their children feel good about themselves. It is also important to communicate your values, to set expectations and enforce limits, such as insisting on honesty, self-control and respect for others, while still allowing teenagers to have their own space.

Parents and other adults who are close to teens often find themselves noticing only the problems, and they may get into the habit of giving mostly negative feedback and being critical. While teens need honest feedback, they respond better to positive feedback. Remember to praise appropriate behavior in order to help your teen feel a sense of accomplishment and reinforce your family's values.The challenge for parents and adults is recognizing when your teen may need help from an outside person or professional.

What should I do if there is a problem?

Work on communicating with your teen. If you suspect there is a problem, ask them what is bothering them. Encourage teens to talk to someone or to ask for help if they are struggling. If you think your teen needs help, or if you need help relating to or helping your teen, there are many resources for teens and adults alike. Consider contacting a school counselor, your family doctor, your place of worship, or an organization like Headway. Whatever the emotional health issue, remember that Headway Emotional Health Services is committed to providing services that result in successful youth, strong and stable families, and healthy communities. We can help.

Please note: Material from Medline Plus (a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health), and the American Academy of Family Physicians was used in this summary.


Pat Dale, CEO
Headway Emotional Health Services

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