Those difficult teenage years when so many changes are taking place in the male and female body is not an easy time for anyone to cope with. That not only applies to the teenager but also to the parents’ having to deal with a young person’s mood swings caused by raging hormones.  This stage in life is just something that we all have to get through as best we can and it is usually regarded as just being part of growing up. Unfortunately, sometimes these problems and the assumption that all that is going on is perfectly normal can have the negative effect of disguising serious mental health issues that need addressing. It is a worrying fact that almost 4% of North American teenagers these days suffer from depression, and other serious mental health disorders can affect young people just as they affect adults.

Just as with physical illnesses, mental health problems are events that happen to people over which they have no control.  Although some will completely recover naturally over time, others will need professional help to deal with what can be very complex issues.  A sufferer cannot simply pull him or herself together – it just doesn’t work that way.  If a teenager starts to act in rather odd ways, those may be coping mechanisms rather than just symptoms, so it can be counter-productive to try and make them stop.  As with physical illness, extra stress is the last thing that is needed – it will just aggravate the problem.

Common mental health problems in teenagers

  • Depression – the single most common mental health complaint at any age, this tends to be visible to outsiders as withdrawal, lethargy and a general lack of interest in life.  Sufferers often feel exhausted as well as desperately unhappy and unmotivated.
  • Anxiety – sometimes co-existing with other illnesses, anxiety manifests as excessive worry.  It may cause acute shyness and withdrawal and it sometimes triggers self-harm.  Panic attacks are a feature of anxiety that need to be resolved with calmness and gentle support.
  • Schizophrenia sometimes shows up for the first time during the teenage years.  It can cause delusions of perception, particularly (but not always) the sense of hearing voices that are not there.  The symptoms cannot normally be controlled without medical help.
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD) – this illness affects the ability to regulate emotion, leading to mood swings, poor self-image and difficulties around personal identity and communication.  Often, intensive treatment is needed to make a normal life possible.
  • Eating disorders – these can occur for a variety of reasons, and adolescents, especially girls, are most vulnerable.  Nutritional support and specialist counseling are often needed and early treatment improves outcomes.

Common mental health disorder drugs

Serotonin reuptake inhibitors are often used to treat depression and anxiety by restoring balanced function in the brain.  Every patient is different, however, and in some cases tricyclic antidepressants or MAOIs are more effective for depressive disorders.  Drugs such as Thorazine, Clozaril and Abilify can help with psychotic disorders, including those that involve delusion.  Lithium and valproic acid can be used to stabilize mood.

How you can help

If you think that you or somebody close to you might have a mental health problem, the first thing to do is to be supportive and avoid panic.  Problems like this are common and in most cases the people affected by them go on to lead normal lives.  If the person agrees, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor to begin the process of getting a diagnosis and sourcing appropriate help.  This may not be pharmaceutical – in some cases counseling is also useful and can help to tackle life problems that may have caused or contributed to the illness.

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