Adolescence brings a host of changes to the life of any family.
Sometimes, those changes are difficult to handle.
The teens themselves may not know what’s going on, even if the changes are painful and confusing. And if the changes are painful and confusing, they may try to ignore them, suppress them, or deal with them by acting out or attempting to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Internal changes in teens can happen gradually, over the course of a couple of years, or they can happen rather suddenly, over the course of a couple of months. Parents might not be able to tell what’s going on with their teenager simply by watching them go through their daily routine, talking to them, or listening to them – but one thing that can give parents real information about what’s happening with their teen is their behavior.
Especially drastic behavioral changes.
We know, we know – that’s so helpful.
Teenage behavior is all over the map. One morning they act fully grown, and by the evening they’re acting like they’re five years old, incapable of finding a pencil to do their math homework or clothes to wear to school the next day.
That’s not the kind of behavior we’re talking about.
We’re talking about behavior that involves fundamental, deep-seated, tip-of-the-iceberg changes that can indicate an underlying mental health or substance use disorder.
We don’t say that to scare parents.
We’re saying that because the age of onset for many anxiety, mood, behavioral, attention, and substance use disorders is adolescence – and that’s something parents need to know.
Adolescent Mental Health
To ensure we’re on the same page, age of onset is the term medical professionals use to describe “the age of period of life at which a disease or the initial symptoms or manifestations of a disease appear in an individual.”
Here’s a list of mental health disorders that may develop during adolescence:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
- Panic Disorder (PD)
- Mood Disorders
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood
- Bipolar Disorder (BD)
- Behavior Disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Substance Use Disorders
It’s important to understand that the disorders listed above can develop at the same time and alongside one another. An individual can simultaneously have two or more of the disorders listed above, particularly if they develop a substance use disorder to alleviate the uncomfortable emotions associated with anxiety, depression, or behavioral disorders.
How to Help Your Teen
This school year may have started out well – but then things went downhill. Perhaps your teen has withdrawn, become irritable, and stopped doing things they used to love. They may throw tantrums, yell, and slam doors. Their grades may have slipped. They may have changed their peer group entirely, started missing curfew, and become evasive when pressed about the details of their social plans or social lives.
But all that can be one hundred percent typical teen behavior.
However, when behaviors like those we just mentioned persist every day for more than two weeks, then your teen may have a problem that goes beyond the typical social, emotional, and psychological growing pains of adolescence.
The way to find out what’s really going on with your teen is to schedule an assessment with a mental health professional. If an assessment indicates a mental health or substance use disorder, the psychiatrist or therapist who performs the assessment may recommend outpatient treatment, or, if the issue is severe and disruptive, they may recommend residential treatment.
That may seem extreme. You may think taking your child out of school early, at the end of the semester, seems too disruptive. And you may be right. On the other hand, evidence shows that the sooner an individual with a mental health or substance use disorder gets an accurate diagnosis and the best available evidence-based treatment, the better chance they have of managing their symptoms and living a life that’s not dominated by their disorder.
Look at it this way: two weeks of residential treatment now can prevent months – if not years or decades – of difficult, uncomfortable, and confusing symptoms that can throw life into disarray. There’s one more benefit to seeking residential treatment now, in early December:
If you get your teen in treatment now, you can have them home –
and on the road to recovery –
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.