This World Mental Health Day we’re focusing on teens. Why? Because last year, the Children’s Society revealed around one in six teens are believed to have a mental health problem. Their research also showed that in the last three years, the likelihood of young people suffering from teenage mental illness had increased by 50%.
Hands up who remembers being a teenager? It’s A LOT. You’re growing up and going through complex changes and challenges in a short period. Your brain and body are maturing and developing at warp speed. You have to negotiate new feelings, friendships, and emotions daily.
And that’s without a global pandemic to contend with, disrupting education, limiting relationships with friends and family, and shutting down the fun social stuff. Not to mention increasing anxiety levels and never-ending worry. Take a scroll through TikTok, and it’s no surprise you’ll find psychotherapists with as many millions of followers and likes from young people as their favourite celebrities.
Poor mental health can have a significant impact on teenager’s daily lives and overall wellbeing. It can affect relationships, physical health and academic performance. If you’re concerned about teenage mental illness, what are the signs that something’s wrong? How can you support and take care of your teen? Here’s a bitesize guide of red flags to keep in mind and tips to help your child:
What are the signs of teenage mental illness?
It’s totally normal for your teen to go through a complex range of emotions, sometimes all in one day! Everybody feels sad, worried, or angry at times. However, if these feelings seem to last a long time and your child seems to be constantly low, or anxious, it could be a sign they need help.
Here are some things to look out for:
– Constant low mood and little enjoyment in doing things they used to love.
– Actively avoiding friends and social situations.
– Sleep problems: they might have problems getting a full night’s rest, or sleep all the time (beyond the usual epic teenage weekend lay ins!).
– Bouncing between being lethargic and hyperactive.
– Feeling continuously stressed or worried about something.
– Hurting themselves, this could be cutting, picking, burning, biting, or pulling out hair.
– Missing school, or their academic work suddenly taking a dive.
Ultimately, you are probably best placed to work out if your child is happy or not. Learning to negotiate feelings and the challenges life throws at us is part of growing up, but if any of the above become regular, it could be a sign of teenage mental illness. So what should you do if you’re concerned your child isn’t coping?
1. Talk to them
If you can, encourage your child to talk about their feelings and what’s going on in their life with you. Make it clear that they don’t have to go through things on their own and that you’re there to help them. Explain that you can work together to overcome problems and you’ll be their advocate.
If your child isn’t keen on sharing with you, there are lots of ways you can build trust. Make an effort to show an interest in what’s important in their world – even if it’s an annoying YouTuber, a must-have makeup palette, or ear-splitting thrash metal. Ask their opinions on things and then value and respect what they put forward. If you can, try and have some one-on-one time each week. All these things will help you bond and open the lines of communication. If your child feels comfortable sharing their problems with you, you can deal with them as they arise, rather than letting them build up.
2. Ask for help
If your child won’t talk to you, suggest they speak to another trusted adult, this could be: a family member, teacher, football coach… Sometimes talking to someone that isn’t a parent can feel easier! Just make sure the person they confide in feeds back to you or helps them get further support.
If you’re worried that they are suffering from teenage mental illness and you need help, there are lots of resources out there. You can access treatment and support for your child’s mental health through their school or college, by going to the GP, or through charities like Mind. In many areas, Mind host local groups and drop ins. The groups will allow your teen to chat with peers about how they are feeling and access the right help.
3. Encourage them to exercise and eat well
Tearing teens away from the X-box and out for a walk, or on the football pitch can be challenging. But getting physical can be key in improving the symptoms of teenage mental illness. Regular exercise has been shown to boost serotonin levels and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone.
Even a 30 minute walk each day will improve mood, increase self-confidence, enhance energy levels, and encourage healthy sleep. Try suggesting your child walk to school, rather than giving them a lift if possible. If there’s a sport they’re interested in, sign them up for a taster session. BMX biking and skateboarding count!
Lots of teenagers gravitate towards junk food and energy drinks, both proven to cause blood sugar dives that can play havoc with mood and energy levels. Instead, try and incorporate nutritious brain foods like oily fish, fruit and veg, eggs and nuts in their diet. They also need slow-release carbs. Wholegrain bread and cereals, bananas, basmati rice, couscous, pulses and lentils will fill them up and prevent blood sugar spikes. Do pick your battles though, an ‘all things in moderation’ approach will probably save everyone A LOT of stress. Our Kids Vitamin Patches are a stress free way of topping them up with fish oils and the vitamin/mineral gaps they may have in their diet.
4. Teach them to practice self-care
Looking after yourself and putting your needs first is a skill everyone needs to learn. Teach your child to understand what does and doesn’t make them feel good. Help them work out what increases positivity and happiness in life and encourage them to pursue these things.
It might be seeing friends, sports, creative therapies like music, drawing, painting, dancing, or playing games. Doing more of what they love is an excellent way to boost self-confidence and contentment with life. It’s a must for all young people whether they’re tackling teenage mental illness, or not.
5. Get serious about sleep
Poor sleep and teenage mental illness can often go hand in hand. A recent study showed that young people who experienced poor mental health, went to bed 30 minutes later each night than teens who didn’t have mental health problems. Their quality and quantity of sleep was also much poorer.
There’s no one size fits all approach, but ideally teens should be getting 8 -10 hours of sleep each night. You can help your child by encouraging them to head to bed at a regular time. Screen time also plays havoc with good quality sleep, so think about putting phones or tablets away at a set time each night.
Instead, suggest a bath, reading a book, or listening to some (ideally relaxing) music before bed. Camomile tea, or a milky (but not sugary) drink are both great for encouraging those Zzz’s. As are our Kids Sleep patches, which can be used daily to help your teen get back into a healthy sleep routine.