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The teenage years are a time of life characterized by significant physical, emotional, psychological and social changes. And while these years can be fulfilling, they also present challenges for adolescents. Academic and social pressures, along with other factors, can cause stress and in some cases, depression. It’s normal for teenagers to experience occasional mood swings and stress, but it’s important for parents to recognize signs of mental health issues that may need attention.
Change in disposition – Examples include increased irritability, anger, intense or uncharacteristic mood swings, withdrawal, sadness, unusual tearfulness or crying.
Decline in school performance – Take note of difficulty concentrating and/or major changes in academic performance.
Behavior changes – Be aware of instances of acting out, negativity and sleep disturbances (insomnia or sleeping too much) and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
If you’re concerned that your teen is suffering from abnormal anxiety or depression, consult with your primary care provider. Early intervention is best, especially if you’re not sure if your teen needs professional help. A healthcare provider can evaluate the situation, provide treatment, suggest counseling or refer you to other resources. For all teens, it’s important to continue annual checkups, even if adolescents are healthy. Most primary care practices now use the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to screen both teenagers and adults for depression during routine office visits. Answers to the questions will alert healthcare providers to follow up or investigate further.
Finally, parents are encouraged to keep the lines of communication open with their teenagers. Initiating conversations, asking questions and being present and accessible are all things parents can do to support their teenagers. Even if your teen is reluctant to talk, be sure to emphasize that you are available and willing to listen. Parents are also encouraged to know their child’s friends and monitor social media and Internet use. Stress, anxiety and depression in teenagers are often the result of social situations, so it’s important to know who your children are spending time with and what they are exposed to online.
Reeta Bhargava, MD, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care and can be reached by calling the office at 317.399.3550