Mental health issues and illnesses can often go undiagnosed and untreated for a long time for people of any age, but often, mental health issues in teenagers can be even harder to recognize. Puberty and adolescence present many challenges and changes for young people physically, emotionally and socially, but some teenagers will also experience more serious issues and difficulties. 

Teenage mental illness is not something to be dismissed as a phase or ignored in the hope that the problems will go away as it can lead to severe consequences. Here are some of the steps you can take if you believe your teenager may be struggling with mental health issues. 

Recognize the Warning Signs 
Recognizing when mental illness is not the hormonal changes and mood swings which are natural during puberty is difficult, and it’s common that teenagers will not speak up about the challenges they’re facing, but there are some mental illness warning signs that you can look out for. 

Significant changes in weight or appetite or restrained or very particular eating habits may be indicative of an eating disorder. Depression can result in extreme mood swings or irritability, insomnia, oversleeping or exhaustion. They may also show a loss of interest in things they used to find enjoyable such as socializing and prefer to isolate themselves or behave secretively and their academic performance may be dropping. If you notice that your teenager is wearing long sleeves or pants all the time and is reluctant to show their skin, they may be covering up signs of self-harm.

Talk Openly 
The first stage is to talk to your teenager about your concerns. They may deny that there are any issues at first, but it’s crucial that they understand they can talk about what they’re experiencing if they need to. It may be the case that they want to discuss it but feel uncomfortable talking to you. You could ask them who they would talk to if they did have a problem which they didn’t want to speak to you and help them to identify those you feel are appropriate. This could include family friends, relatives, teachers, guidance counselors and parents of friends.

In most cases, mental health issues can be treated successfully with the right medical attention, so try not to panic. This treatment could be medication, talking therapy, a combination of both or even a treatment program at a teen rehab center which specializes in mental health issues.

Be Supportive  
If/when your teenager does choose to talk, the best thing you can do is listen. Make sure they know how much you love them and that their struggles aren’t a reflection on them as a person or your relationship. Avoid jumping to your own conclusions, placing blame on others or situations, trying to find a ‘reason’ for their mental health issues or platitudes such as, “Everything’s going to be fine” or “You’ll get over it.” Instead, ask them how you can support them specifically and reassure them that you’ll be there to provide support. 

Get Professional Advice 
If your teenager is making threats of serious self-harm, suicide or experiencing hallucinations, take them to the emergency room for immediate evaluation and support. If your concerns are less urgent, you should make an appointment with your family doctor. The doctor may be able to put your mind at rest and reassure you that your teenager is mentally healthy and give you some advice on recognizing warning signs in the future. They may also be able to diagnose and prescribe treatments or refer you to a mental health professional. The doctor may refer your teenager for further assessment with a mental health professional such as a clinical social worker or psychologist. They will provide a diagnosis and recommend an appropriate treatment program.