Parents know their children better than anyone, and moms and dads often are the first to realize when a child is suffering from mental health issues. Still, taking the first step to seek help can feel daunting. How do you know the difference between normal stresses of growing up, versus a condition that needs treatment from a professional?
The answers are simpler than you think, and most rely on trusting your gut. If your child seems “off,” there are signs to watch out for.
The first and most obvious signal is a drastic change in mood. If your usual happy kid has all of a sudden become downbeat, it’s worth finding out why.
The ways your child engages with the world around them is an excellent indicator of their mental health status. Kids who are suffering from anxiety and depression may isolate themselves from family and friends. If your child shows little interest in spending time with friends or participating in extracurriculars he or she used to love, a mental health issue may be causing this change.
Likewise, if a child has angry outbursts or otherwise negative interactions with family, peers, and teachers, he or she likely needs support to help them engage constructively with others. Often, parents think their child has outgrown the tantrums of toddlerhood, only to see those frustrating meltdowns reappear when the child is a teenager.
It’s one thing for a teenager to feel frustrated or disappointed when things don’t go their way. In fact, those feelings are normal for anyone! These emotions become a problem when the person lashes out. If your child can control his or her emotions, that’s a good thing. But if your child’s emotions control him or her, it’s time to seek additional help.
People overwhelmed by stress, grief, or trauma are likely to seek an escape from their reality. Their day-to-day lives seem like too much to handle, so they seek comfort in anything and everything that will take their mind off of stressors. This escapism might look like substance abuse or spending inordinate amounts of time on social media or with on-screen entertainment. When it comes to screen time, moderation is key: There is a difference between a child who wants to watch a favorite show and a child who acts out when he’s not allowed to play video games for hours on end.
Problems at School
Lagging grades can also be a sign of a mental health issue. If your child’s grades are slipping, they may just need a little extra help with the subject matter. But if your child is no longer able to focus or willing to do an age-appropriate amount of schoolwork, mental health problems may be the culprit.
Physical Health Changes
Healthy bodies need regular, healthy sleep and regular, healthy nutrition. If your child is sleeping too little or too much, or eating too little or too much, it may be a sign of stress and anxiety.
What Comes Next
Not every child will show all of these signs, and some children might only show one or two. But if the change in your child is sudden and severe, please reach out to a mental health professional.
Your child’s school can be an excellent resource to identify and seek the kind of help your child needs. The school will likely have a counselor on staff who can help advise on next steps. A licensed therapist is also a great first option. These professionals can walk you through potential treatments, like dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and experiential therapy.
Camp SEK was created to work in tandem with other mental health supports and to accelerate the healing process in an intensive format where teens can thrive. Help is out there for your child and for your family, and reaching out is the first step to healing.