Friday, December 13, 2013

Youth and Teens - It's Not Just Hormones

An issue very near and dear to my heart is mental health in teens and youth. It's important to me for several reasons - first, I believe it's when my condition first started to show symptoms of creeping out, and yet I more or less ignored them for the next 15 years or so, which I feel was a great disservice to myself. Secondly, these demographics are often ignored when it comes to mental health, and their issues chalked up to hormones and a phase they're going through. Their actions and personalities are thought to be moody, defiant, frustrating, and independent. They're not usually considered to be symptoms of very real, medical conditions that aren't phases at all.

I thought I'd write about the signs and symptoms youth and teens might exhibit, to provide some insight that may traditionally be thought to be "normal" of their age groups. I thought this might prove helpful not only for families, but for youth and teens themselves who are going through something like this, and are feeling confused and frustrated. It's important to note, I'm not a licensed mental health professional. This list below from my first hand experience, and those of others I know who have battled mental health conditions in their youth and teen years.

  • They completely withdraw, not only from the family, but from their friends and social activities as well. While this could be just "teen years", it may not be. Teen years are usually a time of trying to cultivate friendships, find your niche in life, be part of a group. Pulling away from these mirrors how depression often appears in adults. 
  • There's drastic change in eating or sleeping habits that persists over a long period of time. This can be a symptom of multiple conditions, such as depression, anxiety, mood, or eating disorders. 
  • Their friends notice a major change in personality or attitude. We have to be careful with this, because it could indeed just be the ups and downs of young friendships. But it could be something more. Sometimes those who know us best can see the signs before we ourselves can. 
  • They exhibit or feel pronounced mood swings, which don't appear to be linked to specific situations. Often these will last for a few days to a week, but they may last longer, or they may be more rapid. 
  • They complain of being constantly anxious, jittery, irritated, and/or jumpy without a particular reason. This can be a symptom of hypomania or mania in someone with mood cycling. 
  • They have extreme trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks or ideas, even those that are really important to them - ie it's not because they're bored or uninterested. 
  • They talk about feeling worthless or hopeless, particularly without a triggering event that might make them feel this way. 
Of course, virtually everyone experiences these types of feelings from time to time. It's the pattern of these over time, and often the presence of numerous symptoms, that can be cause for concern. It doesn't necessarily mean that they have a condition, but it may be worth consulting a doctor or mental health professional. 

Being diagnosed with a mental health condition can be difficult for anyone, at any time in their life - not only does it mean a medical condition that you may have to deal with for the rest of your life, but there is a lot of stigma about mental health. For youth and teens, who are also dealing with major changes in their lives and their bodies, who are trying to find their way, their social groups, their interests, and their direction in life, it can be even more difficult to have to also battle the stigma and the realization of a condition. It's therefore incredibly important to be supportive and understanding, and if they are diagnosed, to show interest in learning about their condition in an effort to understand and help, instead of either denying it, pushing them away, or making them feel "abnormal". 

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