Thursday, September 3, 2020

When to seek mental health help for your child: Teens (Part 2 or 3)

  All Children Develop at Their Own Pace – Even an Educator's Child |  Children's Services Council of Broward County                                                    

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of

life’s longing for itself.

They come through you, but not from you.

And though they are with you,  they belong not to you...

you are the bow from which your children as living

arrows are sent forth.

from Kahlil Gibran,  The Prophet

Previously I’ve shared work from one of the UNR faculty, Tom Lavin, MFT, LADC. He recently wrote a piece about when to seek help if your child is struggling.

While all of us are facing increased stress due to COVID-19, children are especially vulnerable. There is the disruption to their schedules, being out of school, isolation from peers, trying to learn in their home environment and more. They are also surrounded by reminders about the fragility of life.

In a three-part series I will share Lavin’s advice* on when to seek help, first for children and then for teens. The series concludes with some helpful suggestions about questions to ask when considering therapy. 

Today’s post focuses on teens. 

Sometimes parents are the first to recognize problems with their teen; sometimes they are the last to know. Parents who are concerned about a teen or pre-teen child can review the following checklist, provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). If parents recognize some of the signs below, a thorough evaluation by a mental-health professional may be useful.

  • Marked change in school performance
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Inability to cope with problems
  • Inability to cope with daily activities
  • Marked changes in sleeping habits
  • Marked changes in eating habits
  • Many complaints about physical ailments
  • Aggressive behavior or frequent outbursts of anger
  • Violation of others’ rights
  • Opposition to authority
  • Truancy, theft, vandalism
  • Intense fear of becoming obese (with no relationship to actual body weight)
  • Depression (sustained negative mood and attitude, poor appetite, difficulty sleeping)

Teen Suicide Signs

Parents of teens need to be aware of the signs of suicide risk and know when to ask for professional help. Research cited by The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that suicide among teens has risen dramatically in recent years. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24 years of age.

Many of the symptoms of suicidal feelings are similar to the signs of depression. The AACAP recommends that if one or more of these signs occur parents talk to the child about their concern and seek professional help if concerns persist.

  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Change in eating habits
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities
  • Violent behavior
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • Marked personality change
  •  Decline in schoolwork
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • High level of boredom
  • Physical complaints (often related to emotions): stomachaches, headaches, fatigue
  • According to the AACAP, a teen who is contemplating suicide may also:
  • Complain of being “rotten inside”
  • Give verbal hints (“I won’t be a problem for you much longer”, “Nothing
  • matters”.)
  • Give away favorite possessions; throw away important belongings.

If a child or adolescent says “I want to kill myself”, always take that statement seriously and seek a professional help immediately. A parent can call 911, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site at, or contact their child’s primary care provider.  

*The following resources were cited by Lavin: 

"Understanding Teen Depression” by Empfield and Bakalar  

“Overcoming Teen Depression: A Guide for Parents” by Miriam Kaufman, M.D.

  American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

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