Adolescence is a difficult time even in the best of circumstances. Teens go through a gamut of emotions, and their mental health can be fragile.
Drew Jamieson, a therapist in the Shoals, said one of the most common issues that arises with teens’ mental health is depression.
He also said relationship problems, along with bullying, can contribute to problems associated with depression.
Alicia Kelly, a counselor in Florence, agreed and said teens are dealing with a lot of bullying, and social media has only exasperated the situation.
“Listening to what their children are saying and validate where the kids are coming from” is important, Kelly said. “It isn’t the kids’ fault if they are being bullied.”
Parents know their children best, so watching for behavioral changes can help parents know if their children may need help. But sometimes just being overworked or involved in too many activities can add stress to a teen’s life.
“I think sometimes, too, they are just so over obligated,” Jamieson said. “A lot of the time, these kids are just involved in so much they don’t know which way they are going. They get spread really thin.”
Parents should keep an eye on children if they start to withdraw or isolate themselves. Significant changes in grades or sleeping habits also can be a sign of an underlying problem such as depression.
Jamieson said parents should listen if their teen complains about not getting enough sleep or are having problems sleeping.
A change in eating habits can also indicate a problem. A teen who quits eating or has low appetite may be showing signs of depression.
Overeating also can be a sign of too much stress.
If depression isn’t addressed with life skills or coping skills, it can continue to be an issue into adulthood.
Mental health experts say it isn’t always something teens just grow out of, although some problems are more permanent than others.
“Factors like developmental challenges in the teen years are very difficult and come with a lot of change, and some of the depression that kids will experience is with that, the transition from being a child to an adult,” Jamieson said.
“They may very well grow out of that. Also hormones are completely out of whack in their body and can lead to mood changes.”
Jamieson said depression, even if it is just brought on by puberty or developmental changes, should be addressed so teens can learn proper coping mechanisms and go into adulthood better equipped.
“Listening non-judgementally, like it wouldn’t be helpful to tell a child they shouldn’t feel a certain way,” Kelly said, about ways parents can help their children deal with emotional problems and stresses in their lives.
“My number one complaint from kids is that ‘my parents don’t really listen to me,’ ” Kelly said. “So honestly listening to what your child is saying helps validate and really gets to the core of the emotion to what they are trying to express.”
Kelly said it’s important children and teens know it’s OK to feel embarrassed, mad or sad. It’s the behavior that accompanies those feelings that needs attention.
Rebecca Stone, a counselor in Florence, said teens suffer when parents aren’t as involved with their children.
“What I’ve found these days withteens, they aren’t particularly involved with their parents,” Stone said. “The teenagers are online, and the parents are very detached.”
Stone said if the parents do actually sit down and have dinner and talk to their kids, they can build a relationship that will help their children weather a lot of the stress.
She also said many kids unchallenged in school and often unequipped for critical thinking and problem solving. Lacking these skills hamstring kids’ efforts to learn and can lead to self-esteem issues, which leads to depression.
Making sure kids read and do homework is a way to make sure they develop proper problem solving skills.
Another issue that can weigh on teens is sexuality.
A 2007 study at Cornell University found that students questioning their sexual identity are more likely to attempt or commit suicide.
“If parents have a child that is struggling with orientation, the worst thing a parent can do is shame them or dismiss it,” Jamieson said.
“It’s again being a good listener and helping them explore his or her feelings.”
Kelly said PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings can help parents and loved ones work through these issues.
“Regardless of their beliefs on that lifestyle, they need to let their kids know, to, well, not to be the bully,” Jamieson said.
“Even if they don’t accept that lifestyle, there is still a person there. Regardless of the lifestyle, we need to be accepting of people.”Keeping open lines of communication can help prevent problems such as depression or stress from boiling over.
“That’s difficult with teenagers,” Jamieson said. “I do get a few teens that are drug there by their parents, but surprisingly there are a large number that are OK with having a neutral person that’s not a teacher, parent or member of the family and knowing that it’s a safe place.”
Jamieson said parents should approach mental health concerns in a child the same way they would approach physical health concerns.
He said mental health concerns should be approached with teenagers in a non-confrontational way.
The counselors said, sometimes, it’s healthy for teens to just have an outsider listen to them. They also agreed that as far as prevention goes, communicating and listening — really listening — to teens can help develop good mental health.
“Maintaining a good relationship is going to be the best prevention possible,” Jamieson said. “As long as they feel safe to share their feelings.”
Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or bobby.bozeman@TimesDaily.com.