One in 5 young people experience a mental health crisis between the ages of 13-18. As a parent, recognizing the symptoms is difficult. Symptoms can be easily overlooked or incorrectly attributed to a teenage phase. So how do you recognize when your child is in crisis, and what do you do next?
Twenty percent of young people age 13-18 experience a mental health crisis at some point and may become a possible threat to harm themselves or others. Depression, bipolar disease, and other mood disorders often develop early in a person’s life, with half of all chronic mental illnesses beginning by age 14. What’s more, mood disorders are the third leading cause of hospitalization among US youth.
As a parent or guardian, recognizing a loved one’s mental health struggle—and knowing what do when seeing the symptoms—is critical to keeping your teenager safe. Left untreated a mental health crisis can lead to desperate acts. Indeed, more than 90 percent of people who commit suicide—the second leading cause of death among young men and women—show symptoms of mental health crises beforehand.
In all likelihood, you know your child better than anyone else does. So, if you notice alarming behavioral changes or suspect that something isn’t right, trust your instincts. Look closely for any of the following symptoms that could indicate that your child is suffering through more than just a teenage phase:
- Frequent mood swings
- Sleeping all the time, or having difficulty sleeping
- Isolating themselves from family and friends
- Not eating enough or eating too much
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Making threats against others
When intuition causes you to believe that something is wrong, start by talking with your child. Emotions can be a sensitive topic to discuss; however, a frank conversation can help you both understand a problem’s severity and what help is needed.
Some tips for discussing a mental crisis with your teenager include:
- Explain what specific actions are worrying you
- Express your love and willingness to help
- Ask calmly but directly if he or she has thought about harming themselves or others
- Ask if he or she has considered plans for committing suicide
- Avoid being dismissive or judgemental
- Resist trying to convince your teenager that certain feelings are illogical or groundless
- Be supportive and listen
Remember, unless you are a trained mental health professional, solving the problem is not your goal; at this point, you are trying to discover whether or not a crisis exists.
If your instincts are telling you it’s time to get help, reaching out to your teenager’s primary care physician is a sensible place to start. A doctor can determine the severity of the problem, whether there is a medical cause, and what an appropriate course of action would be. Your physician might prescribe medication or recommend your child talks to a therapist, or both.
If your child does not have a physician, contact a local crisis care provider for further information, evaluation, and treatment.
Remember to trust your instincts, and don’t put off getting your teenager help. Taking quick action can make all the difference in your child’s life.
If you believe a child is at immediate risk for suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Call Rescue at 419-255-3125, anytime day or night.