When do I know it's time to seek mental health treatment for my teenager?
This is often a baffling question because the very behaviors that are developmentally normal for a teen may be the identified problem in the eyes of a parent.
"My daughter is always on her phone, isolated in her room, argumentative and mean to her little brother. She is often unexpectedly angry, followed by tearfulness. Always a straight A-student, her grades have slipped."
Adolescents often keep their internal emotional world to themselves. As they slip into independence, we need to keep in mind that their impressionable brains are exploding with growth. They are faced with the challenge of balancing demands of home, school and social settings while managing their emotions, which are in a consistent yet unpredictable state of flux. As a parent, witnessing the behaviors associated with this emotional roller coaster can feel just as confusing! Parents want their kids to share their problems within the family, but they more often turn to friends, which is often difficult for parents to accept.
As a mental health clinician, I ask these types of questions of parents, after first just listening:
~ Does your daughter want help and how does she feel about this intervention (counseling/psychotherapy)?
~ Has there been a history of loss in your family or a distinct change in the last few years? (e.g. Parental separation/divorce; death)
~ Is there family medical history to discuss?
~ Does your daughter have friends? What is your impression of how she interacts with peers her age? Do you know her close friends?
~ Is there a school learning/intervention plan or IEP? What support is in place in school?
~ What is your impression of you daughter's use of social media?
~ What is your understanding of her involvement in alcohol/drugs or sexual acting-out?
I stress that it is sometimes not appropriate to ask all these questions and depending on each unique case, the questions vary. Nonetheless, we attempt to understand the amount of decline/change in regular habits, such as sleeping and appetite. Change of friends? Self-injurious behavior? Many factors must be explored. A sudden change in basic temperament is something to pay attention to.
Understanding your teen's struggles takes patience and sometimes, more time than you'd like. There is almost never a "quick fix."
If you have questions about whether your teen is a candidate for psychotherapy, please feel free to contact me at patkinslpc@@verizon.net.
Patricia Atkins, LPC