Delaying Treatment Makes Everything Worse
If you’re the parent of a teenager, you know the past two years have been stressful. Strictly speaking, by the calendar, it’s been 19 months since schools around the country switched to virtual learning at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Most kids are back in school now, and things are slowly getting back to normal.
But if we’re honest, they’ve been through 19 months of upheaval. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call it two years.
Two years of disruption in all areas of school life.
That disruption had a big impact on teen mental health. Experts warned us at the beginning of the pandemic our teens were headed for a crisis, and data from 2020 and 2021 proved them right. Just last week, the Surgeon General of the United States released an advisory warning that our teens are facing significant challenges “…that need our immediate awareness and action.”
Click here to read our summary of that report.
How To Avoid A Mental Health Crisis With Your Teen
In the Surgeon General’s Advisory, the two most important words for parents to pay attention to are awareness and action. It’s easy for us to say those words and understand what they mean for parents of teens in 2021, because mental health is our area of expertise. However, parents with no experience with mental health issues may not understand what those words imply.
We’ll explain that now.
Teen Mental Health: Parental Awareness
Parents should be aware that:
- The rates of mental health issues among teens increased between 2019 and 2021. Parents should understand this is a nationwide emergency, and all teens are at risk. Here are the important facts:
- In 2019:
- 20% of children between age 3 and 17 reported an emotional, behavioral, developmental, or mental health disorder.
- In 2021:
- 20% of youth reported depressive symptoms
- 25% of youth reported anxiety symptoms
- Between 2019 and 2021, visits to hospital emergency rooms for suspected suicide attempts increased 51% for adolescent girls and 4% for adolescent boys in 2021
- In 2019:
- They can identify the warning signs of mental health issues among teens. Parents should understand what to look for, so they can get their teen the help they need. Here are the most common warning signs for mental health issues in teens:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Drastic change in mood, including excessive anger, irritability, or persistent/daily sadness
- Withdrawal from favorite activities and/or routine daily activities
- Drastic loss or gain in weight
- Rapid drop in academic performance
- Extreme neglect of personal hygien
- Evidence-based treatment for mental health issues is effective. Parents should understand that a teen who gets the help they need, when they need it, can avoid a crisis. Levels of support include:
- Individual outpatient therapy
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP)
- Residential treatment centers (RTC)
Once parents are aware of those three things, they need to know they can take action. Again, that’s easy for us to say. But parents with no experience with mental health issues among teens may not understand what actions they need to take.
We’ll explain what parents can do to help their teens now.
Teen Mental Health 2021: How to Take Action to Help You Teen
- Taking action includes proactively monitoring teens for the signs of mental health issues. Knowing the signs is the first step. Honestly evaluating teen behavior is the second. Those steps lead us to the third step, which is our next bullet point: assessment.
- Taking action means that if a parent notices the signs of a mental health issue in their teen, they need to arrange for a full psychiatric assessment administered by a licensed mental health professional experienced in working with the adolescent population. A high-quality assessment leads to our third bullet point: seeking support.
- Taking action means that if a full psychiatric evaluation indicates the presence of a mental health issue, parents need to seek professional treatment and support for their teen. That support needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Those are the things parents need to be aware of, and those are the actions parents can take if they notice the signs of mental health issues in their teens. Next, we’ll talk about the consequences of delaying treatment for teens with mental health issues.
The Consequences of Waiting for a Crisis
We’ll step away from mental health for a moment and use two analogies. These have nothing to do with health at all. They’re practical analogies.
Consider, for instance, the best way to handle problems with a home or an automobile. Note: we know teens are not inanimate objects like houses or cars. Stick with us through this, though.
First, let’s talk about a house. We’ll address one thing: a leaky roof. When a roof leaks, you have big problems. Ignoring it is the worst possible thing you can do. Short-term problem solving like putting a bucket on the floor under the leak does nothing to fix the leak: it just keeps the floor from getting wet. When you ignore a leaky roof, rather than getting a skilled roofer to patch it the right way, your repair costs and all associated problems will escalate. Costs can jump from $500 to $10,000, easy. Ask a homeowner and they’ll confirm that.
Next,t let’s talk about a car. If you hear a fan belt squeal, the best thing to do is take it in and replace the belt. If you don’t do this, it gets worse. It gets louder. If you still ignore it, the belt can break, which can – if everything goes wrong – lead to serious problems. Overheating. A cracked engine block. What would have cost maybe $200 maximum can escalate to numbers we don’t want to think about: $5,000 for a used car, and $20,000 + for a new car.
Again, we know teenagers are not objects. We also know money is not your only concern. Our point here is that waiting for a crisis is not a good choice. Especially when – like issues with a house or a car – the warning signs are clear and the remedies are known and available.
Clinical Mental Health Disorders Do Not Go Away on Their Own
Here’s another thing to consider: the mental health issues your teen experiences may not be serious. It’s common for indications of distress, anxiety, and depression to increase during natural disasters, wartime, or during once-in-a-century events like an ongoing worldwide pandemic. Those issues may fade as the overt stressors increase.
However, these same types of events can trigger the development of a clinical mental health disorder. Whereas the temporary consequences of elevated stress and pressure may fade as society and culture finds a new normal, a real mental health disorder almost never goes away without professional help and support.
In fact, they typically get worse. In some cases, worse means a crisis, and a crisis can mean involuntary commitment to inpatient psychiatric care. A crisis can also mean suicidal ideation. And, in some rare cases, a crisis can lead to a suicide attempt.
That’s fact, not exaggeration.
No parent wants any of that for their child.
The best way to find out what’s going on with your teen is by arranging a full psychiatric assessment with a mental health professional experienced in working with adolescents. An article like this cannot diagnose your teen, nor can it determine whether your teen’s issues are temporary or the signs of a mental health disorder.
Only a professional can do that.
That’s why we’ll end this article with a variation of the title:
Don’t Wait for a Crisis – Get Help Now
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.