You work hard to raise your teen right, from encouraging a healthy diet to ferrying them to extracurriculars. But are you on top of all aspects of your teen’s wellness?
The statistics are too drastic to ignore; according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 kids between the ages of 13 and 18 live with a mental health condition. It’s never too early for parents to educate themselves on which behaviors fall outside the norm and understand the necessary steps should a mental health crisis arise.
Consider the following four ways you can care for the mental health of your teen.
1. Keep an open dialogue
“One of the main things parents can do is just spending time with their child, maintaining a good relationship,” says C. Stephen Edwards, M.D., chief of child and adolescent psychiatry and medical director of Williams House at the Lindner Center of HOPE, a mental health treatment center in Cincinnati, Ohio. That way, “whenever they have a concern they feel free to bring it up to you.” Make sure to ask questions about school and friends, and find out if there are ways you can help alleviate day-to-day stress.
2. Pay attention to red flags
According to Dr. Edwards, common warning signs include “difficulties with sleep and appetite, weight loss issues and decreases in academic performance. These days you’ve also got social media,” he adds. “So you have bullying in school as well as bullying in cyberspace. Spend time with your teen and see what they’re looking at on the computer.”
Lynn, whose son Colton received treatment at Williams House, the Lindner Center’s adolescent residential treatment program, recalls that “self-esteem played a big part. When the feeling like he didn’t fit in began, we really started watching closer.”
3. Reach out for guidance
If your teen is exhibiting one or more of these behaviors, the first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your family pediatrician. They can help gauge if a behavior is outside the norm and, if they recommend a visit to a therapist or psychiatrist, “they’re going to know providers in the area,” Dr. Edwards says. If your teen is specifically having issues in school, it can also be beneficial to talk, or encourage your teen to talk, with a school counselor.
If things progress, it may be time to meet with an educational consultant like Tamara Ancona, who builds an extensive profile on the teens and families she meets in order to help determine the best placement for treatment.
4. Take a holistic approach
“It’s critical, before I can match the best therapeutic residential setting for that child, that I have the best understanding and profile of that individual and that family,” Ancona says. She adds, “we need clarity not just in labels but in what that whole diagnostic picture looks like.” Dr. Edwards echoes the sentiment. “We always start with the least restrictive mode of treatment,” he explains. “We’re encouraged to take time with our patients, to get a history and do whatever testing that we deem clinically necessary instead of taking a shotgun approach.”
Colton was correctly diagnosed with OCD, but had spent years pursuing therapy and taking medicine that was doing nothing to improve his quality of life. Pharmacogenomic testing, Lynn recalls, “helped Colton’s doctor make decisions about prescribing the right kind of medicine. Once that was in place, they were able to do the more intensive therapy.”
Each teen’s path to wellness is different — for Colton, it was specialized, residential treatment that ultimately offered hope for his future. “When Colton went into the center,” Lynn shares, “he could hardly function in society. Now he is a 15-year-old, driving and communicating, full of life and very social.”
Colton shares: “I had always wanted to get better, but it was so hard to get better. They found a way to make it easier to get better.”