I went to a seminar today on learning the warning signs of teenagers experiencing mental health problems. It was interesting that the facilitators pointed out some teen behavior is normal as they deal with hormones, peer pressure, forming their own identities apart from their family’s, etc. I agree. Some of them seem to be visitors from another planet, and use an alien language that needs to be deciphered. But the facilitators showed the difference between normal and the onset of depression, suicide thoughts, anxiety, and other disorders.
I was surprised at the lengths a teenager will go to hide these problems for a variety of reasons. They are afraid their parents will not believe they have a valid problem needing treatment, or are afraid of frightening their parents, being seen as complaining, or weird, or whatever. I had forgotten when all those things mattered to me. At my present age, I would have the tendency to not care what they thought as long as I got help. But it took a lot of toughening up to get to this point.
I learned that how we ask teen if something is wrong makes a difference. Instead of saying, “I see you are depressed. You need to go to a doctor for medicine.” is way too threatening. A much better way is to say, “I’ve noticed you have been acting differently lately. Would you like for us to talk about it?” Hmmm…that seems like treating them with respect and valuing their privacy.
And it’s okay to ask a teen if they are having suicidal thoughts, and following up on their response. With the suicide rate being so high (second leading cause of deaths in teens), people interacting with youth must be watchful of signs and willing to lovingly question them about their feelings. The words “I’m here for you” are remembered and treasured. Even if the person denies a problem, they may come to them later. Words of support and comfort are not wasted.
Anxiety is another big problem with school-age children. Stories were told of kids throwing up before going to school of the morning because of all the stress to excel. I don’t know about you, but I wonder if we aren’t demanding too much from children too early. Forget about the race to be the best if it destroys them in the process.
I went to the seminar because our nonprofit will be working with teens. We need to be aware of physical as well as mental, emotional, and spiritual needs We are whole persons and every part of us is important. Others in similar positions need to be educating themselves as well.
By the way, the national suicide hotline number is 1-800-458-7788.