Life as a teenager has always had its challenges. However, the teenage years are filled with more mental health challenges now than in the past. The pace of life and the availability of technology has added a new level to the world that teenagers experience. This can be stressful for parents looking to support their children during this critical period of late adolescence. But there are many different ways that you and your teen can overcome the struggles that they may face such as seeking mental health treatment through online therapy.
In this article, we will discuss some of the most common mental health problems that young people face today, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. We will then explore ways that you can support your teen in getting mental health services and navigating the challenges they may be going through.
Anxiety is on the rise in teenagers today. It’s been found that as many as one in three teens will deal with an anxiety disorder. There are various types of anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: characterized by persistent and excessive worry about various aspects of daily life (such as school, health, etc.). Symptoms may include feelings of restlessness or irritability, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and physical discomforts such as muscle tension or gastrointestinal distress.
- Panic Disorder: involves recurrent panic attacks, which are sudden episodes of extreme fear. During a panic attack, a person may experience rapid heart rate, chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, or strong feelings of impending doom. Another key characteristic of Panic Disorder is avoiding certain situations that a person might associate with panic attacks to prevent an episode from occurring.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: extreme fear of social situations where a person thinks they may be evaluated, judged, or embarrassed by others. Someone with Social Anxiety Disorder may avoid certain social settings and interactions, which may cause disruption at school/work and in building and maintaining relationships with others.
- Specific Phobias: involves intense fear around a specific object or situation (like heights, certain animals, vomiting, etc) that causes significant distress.
There are many factors that can contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder, including a family history of mental illness or experiencing traumatic or stressful life events such as physical or sexual violence. The immense pressures during the teenage years can cause symptoms of an anxiety disorder to emerge for the first time, particularly for those with a genetic predisposition.
While it’s true that this has always been a difficult stage in a life full of transitions, teenagers today face challenges that their parents did not. Overall, there are higher expectations for teenagers to succeed than there have been in history. Children in school often learn more advanced studies than in the past. Many are encouraged to participate in sports, have a part-time job, and maintain friendships while trying to balance schoolwork in the middle of it. Plus, they're expected to figure out what they want to do with their life after high school.
There are also many different stressors in teenagers’ lives today than there were several decades ago that may impact mental health outcomes. Teenagers today experience lockdown drills at school to prepare for a possible school shooter. They have had to witness media coverage of terrorist attacks and mass shootings. And now they are dealing with the effects of coronavirus and the fight to end racial Injustice. It’s a lot for a teenager to handle.
Social media has emerged as a major influence on adolescent mental health, contributing to the anxiety experienced by some teenagers. The pervasive nature of social media means that teenagers can remain connected to the world at any given moment, heightening feelings of FOMO and exacerbating anxiety. Moreover, social media platforms have become a breeding ground for cyberbullying, which can further compound anxiety and feelings of isolation. The use of social media also perpetuates a culture of comparison, which can be detrimental, particularly during the formative years of young adulthood.
Several treatment options are available to help adolescents manage anxiety disorders, including psychotherapy, medication, and support groups. According to the World Health Organization, fostering supportive environments that promote positive coping strategies and that build resilience is equally important. Through support from family, friends, and mental health professionals, teenagers can learn effective ways to manage their anxiety and maintain their mental well-being.
Teenagers are at a greater risk of experiencing negative changes in mood and energy levels due to the physical, social, and emotional changes they undergo during this developmental stage. While it is common for teenagers to feel sad, irritable, or stressed, persistent changes in mood that significantly disrupt daily life may indicate the presence of a deeper issue that requires professional support and treatment. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, 17% of adolescents aged 12-17 experienced a major depressive episode in 2020, highlighting the critical need for greater attention to adolescent mental health. Prioritizing adolescent mental health is a fundamental aspect of health and human development that can help teens avoid a more serious mental disorder in adulthood.
Depressive disorders are characterized by a range of symptoms that can significantly impact a person's daily life.
Common symptoms of depression include ongoing feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness, decreased energy, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, changes in sleep patterns, withdrawal from friends and family, and thoughts of death or suicide.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, reach out for help immediately through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Eating disorders are another common mental health challenge affecting teenagers today. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that as many as 10% of young women may struggle with an eating disorder. But while they are often associated with females, eating disorders are something that males can struggle with as well.
The most common types of eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa: characterized by restricting caloric intake which often leads to low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and distorted body image
- Bulimia nervosa: involves recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors (such as purging, laxative use, or excessive exercise)
- Binge eating disorder: defined by frequent binge eating episodes, which are defined by eating large amounts of food, often rapidly and to the point of discomfort, and lack of control over what or how much one is consuming.
There is also a category of eating disorders called Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) which includes eating patterns that do not meet the criteria to be diagnosed with other types of eating disorders but still cause significant impairment to an individual’s functioning. It is essential to note that anyone who is experiencing distress around food, body image, or exercise should seek appropriate support and treatment, regardless if they fit neatly into a specific diagnosis.
In today's social media age, teenagers are constantly bombarded with messages that can negatively impact their physical health and well-being. One such pressure is the belief that they must always look perfect, which can lead to hyper-focus on their weight and body type. This can cause them to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and their body image, leading to risky behaviors such as restrictive eating or excessive exercise.
Eating disorders can have many underlying causes beyond just feeling the pressure to conform to societal beauty standards. Risk factors for developing an eating disorder include a family history of eating disorders or other mental health conditions, low self-esteem, over-controlling parents, a history of sexual abuse, and other types of mental health disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
When dealing with eating disorders in adolescents, it's crucial to involve a mental health professional who can help them tackle the physical and psychological aspects of their condition. It's not just a matter of encouraging them to eat more; there are typically more risk factors adolescents need to address. Therefore, it's essential to uncover the root causes that led them to struggle with food in the first place.
Substance Abuse Disorders
As a parent, you may not want to believe that your child is at risk of developing a substance use disorder. However, science tells us that the teenage brain has not yet reached full maturity. This makes teenagers more likely to engage in risky behavior which may include drinking alcohol or trying recreational drugs. Because of these risk factors, adolescents may also be more likely to become addicted.
It's natural as a parent to hope that any concerning behavior exhibited by your child during adolescence is just a passing phase. However, when it comes to substance use, it's important not to turn a blind eye. Once your teen starts using alcohol or drugs, it can be challenging for them to stop, particularly if they have become dependent on the substance or are experiencing peer pressure.
It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms that your teenager may be struggling with substance abuse. This can include things like:
- Hanging out with a new group
- Losing interest in activities that they used to enjoy
- Breaking rules or changing behavior
- Physical changes such as weight loss, watery eyes, tremors, or frequent nosebleeds
- Becoming more irritable or angry
Spotting the early warning signs of a substance use disorder can be difficult. It progresses over time. One of the best ways to be able to address this is to know your teen. The more you know about them and the closer you are to them, the easier it may be to spot some of the early signs that they may need professional support.
Other Mental Health Challenges That Teenagers Face
In addition to the challenges mentioned, adolescents may also struggle with a range of other mental health conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, conduct disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some may even experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a traumatic event.
A person with post-traumatic stress disorder may experience symptoms like recurring flashbacks or nightmares of the event, avoiding anything that may bring up memories of the trauma, ongoing feelings of irritability or being ‘on edge’, engaging in self-destructive behaviors (including self-harm) and distorted beliefs about themselves and the world following the trauma they experienced.
Early detection of mental health challenges can be important in helping to overcome them before they can grow into more serious problems. Therefore, if you believe your teenager may be experiencing signs of a mental health condition, it’s crucial to connect them with professional help and support as soon as possible.
How To Overcome Mental Health Challenges During The Teenage Years
Learning how to overcome mental health challenges as a teenager is not unlike overcoming them as an adult.
However, one of the tricky parts can be that a teen is going through many natural changes during this time. They’re learning who they are and who they want to be. This means it can be normal for them to challenge what their parents think and even act rebelliously. They may become distant from their family and spend more time alone or with peers. This can make it harder to recognize when there is a serious mental health problem versus just a normal part of the teenage years.
If you are unsure, you might consider bringing your concerns to your teen’s doctor or a mental health professional who can provide further insight and guidance.
Talk To Your Teen
It’s important to talk with your teen regularly. And not just the small talk that happens in every home. Let your teenager know that it’s safe to come to you when they are struggling.
One of the best ways to encourage this is to create a safe space for them to talk with you. Turn towards them with openness, non-judgment, and support. And remember, the better you know your child and their friends, the easier it may be to spot if a problem is starting to arise.
Teach Them To Be Proactive With Their Mental Health
There are many things that teens can do to stay mentally healthy. This includes things like developing self-care routines. Encourage them to eat right, get enough sleep, take time to do things that they enjoy, and lean on their support system (whether close friends, family, another trusted adult, or community groups).
Work together to learn relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation. And talk to them about the signs of things like anxiety and depression. Help them learn to recognize the red flags in themselves and their friends.
Seek The Support Of A Therapist
If your teen is struggling, set up an appointment for them to meet with a mental health professional. Look for one that specializes in the stage of life that your teen is in and the challenges that they are facing.
And if you’re noticing ongoing stress or anxiety associated with parenting, don’t be afraid to seek mental health services for yourself. By connecting with a licensed therapist through BetterHelp, you can process your emotions around raising your teen and learn strategies that can help you to cope with stressors and navigate challenges within family relationships. By seeking treatment yourself, you can be a role model for your child by showing them that there is no shame in getting the help that you need to live emotionally well.
Online Therapy For Teen Mental Health
If you do consider seeking professional assistance for your teen’s mental health, one solid option is online therapy through a service such as BetterHelp. Through BetterHelp, your teen can be matched with a licensed professional in as little as 48 hours. They can meet for appointments in the comfort of their own home without the added stress of traveling to an in-person office, which, for teens, can be especially nice if they’d rather their peers not know they were receiving treatment.
You may worry that online therapy won’t work as well for your teen as traditional in-person therapy might. Rest assured that online therapy has been clinically proven in multiple studies to be just as effective as in-person therapy for both teens and adults for a variety of mental health conditions and life situations.
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