Five signs your teen is struggling with their mental health

Five signs your teen is struggling with their mental health

Our teenage years are meant to be a care-free and exciting, filled with self-discovery and exploration that prepares us emotionally for pending adulthood. But, as most of us can easily recall, the reality of being a teenager is rarely this simple. 

As young people go through the physical, emotional and social changes that are expected in their teens, they’re vulnerable to mental health problems. In fact, 70% of people with a mental illness begin experiencing symptoms before age 18, and young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group [1].

As a parent or guardian, you are in an excellent position to start a dialogue with your teenage kids about their mental health. But, it can be tricky to differentiate between typical teenage moodiness and a mental health issue. Continue reading for five signs your child might be struggling with their mental health and some tips on what to do next.

Teen and youth mental health in Canada

Common mental health issues among youth include:

  • Emotional disorders: Includes depression, anxiety, excessive irritability, frustration or anger, unexpected emotional outbursts, etc. Depression is the fourth leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents aged 15 to 19 globally [2].
  • Eating disorders: Including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. They typically begin in adolescence or young adulthood and affect women ten times more than men [3, 4].
  • Suicide and self harm: Canada has the third-highest youth suicide rate in the industrialized world [5]. Canadian youth aged 15-24 have a higher risk of suicide than the general population [6]. Risk factors include harmful use of alcohol, depression, stigma, and barriers to healthcare.

 

How can I tell if my teen is struggling with their mental health?

1. They’re falling behind in school

Mental illness can negatively impact concentration, motivation, sleep and energy level all of which can make focusing on school pretty difficult. Your child doesn’t have to have perfect grades, but a drop in marks might be a red flag for concurrent mental health disorders. As well, a 2021 study in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found that mental health problems in early childhood and adolescence increase the risk for poor academic performance.

Pressure to succeed academically, test anxiety, bullying at school, poor sleep, poor nutrition and more can all negatively impact a student’s mental wellness and keep them from excelling. You might also notice your child skipping class or not handing in assignments.

2. They’ve experienced unexplained weight loss/weight gain 

If a teenager is rapidly losing or gaining weight, they could be struggling mentally. When experiencing stress or anxiety, teenagers might turn to extreme dieting or overeating regain a sense of control over their lives or conform to societal beauty standards.

 Anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are just a few additional mental health diagnoses that frequently co-occur with eating disorders [7].

3. They’re withdrawing socially and losing interest in their hobbies

While it is normal to lose interest in childhood hobbies as we age, an abrupt avoidance of activities that once brought joy can be a sign of depression. Depression is common across all age groups but can present differently in teens than adults. Some common symptoms include feelings of sadness or crying spells with no apparent cause, excessive anger or frustration, trouble concentrating, weight loss/gain, or thoughts about self-harm and suicide.

4. They’re using drugs or alcohol frequently

Many people start to experiment with drugs, alcohol or tobacco in their teens. According to Statistics Canada, 60 per cent of illicit drug users in Canada are between 15 and 24. The illicit market aside, youth are also vulnerable to prescription drug addiction. For example, in 2019, CAMH found that 11 per cent of Ontario students in Grades 7 to 12 reported taking an opioid pain reliever (i.e. Tylenol 3, Percocet etc.) that was not prescribed to them.  The same study found that high school students were using e-cigarettes (vapes) significantly more often than years before [8].

Many people who have an addiction also develop other mental illnesses, and vice versa. With the right treatment program, these co-occurring disorders can be addressed together.

5. Their sleeping patterns have changed dramatically

Mood and sleep are closely linked. If your teen is struggling with stress and/or anxiety, for example, it can be harder for them to get the amount of rest they need to properly regulate their emotions. According to​​ Harvard Medical School,15 to 20 percent of people diagnosed with insomnia will develop major depression, and even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood [9].

There are plenty of reasons your child’s sleep schedule might change in high school, but consistent exhaustion is detrimental to their physical and mental health. 

What should I do to help my child struggling with mental health?

If you suspect your teen might be struggling with a mental illness or addiction, the first step is initiating a conversation from a place of compassion and understanding. Here are some tips to prepare: 

1. Learn and listen 

There is plenty of misunderstanding and stigma attached to mental illness and addiction; this creates barriers to accessing proper treatment. If you know or suspect that your teen is struggling, educate yourself on their symptoms or condition to demonstrate how much you care. Some great resources include the Canadian Mental Health Association, Children’s Mental Health Ontario, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Youth Mental Health Canada. You can also check out EHN Online’s blogs on enabling a loved one’s addiction or speaking to a loved one about their addiction.

Approach a conversation with your teen from a place of empathy, not judgement or accusation. Find a private place to speak, address their emotions and concerns with compassion, and use your research to discuss possible solutions. 

Avoid being confrontational or using a judgemental tone, as this could make your child feel guilty or ashamed. Remind your child that you are initiating this conversation because you care and want what’s best for them.

2. Take care of yourself

Mental health problems are extremely common, especially among young people, and are nothing to be ashamed of. Remember that talking about mental health should be as easy as talking about physical health. 

As you’re helping your child through their mental health struggle, make sure you’re tending to your own health as well and have healthy habits in place to handle stress.

3. Look into treatment options

There are several treatment options and solutions to help better your teen’s mental health that are proven to be effective. A great place to start is talking to your family doctor so they can refer you to a mental health specialist if needed. Publicly-funded treatment options are available through your provincial healthcare system, but keep in mind that wait times can be significant.

If you’re interested in private services, try looking at directories on different professional college’s websites, such as The Ontario College for Psychologists or the Ontario College of Social Workers. Group and individual therapy, medication and stress management techniques have all been proven to help improve mental health. No two journeys to mental wellness are the same. Speaking to a professional can help determine the best course of action for you and your teen.

Finally, if your child is dealing with mild-to-moderate symptoms, a structured outpatient teen program is a great alternative to a residential program.

What does a structured outpatient program look like?

If you suspect your teen might be in need of mental health treatment, a structured, evidence-based outpatient program is an effective and affordable alternative to inpatient (residential) treatment. Virtual outpatient programs allow youth to continue living at home and participating in daily activities such as school, while connecting with like minded individuals and receiving the personalized care they deserve.

EHN Online’s Healthy Minds Comprehensive Teen Program is a nine-week program that helps youth aged 14-18 mend their mental health virtually. With flexible scheduling options, your child can receive the highest standard of mental health care and connect with other teens experiencing similar symptoms from the comfort of their own home. Research shows that outpatient therapy can be as effective as residential treatment, [10] and with EHN Online’s program being tailored specifically to teens, they’ll be able to stay engaged and practice coping skills and strategies in their daily lives.

Structured online treatment programs are a great option for people who have a mild-to-moderate case of mental illness or addiction, and need more support than counselling or medication alone can provide.

The Healthy Minds Comprehensive Teen Program can be accessed virtually across Canada. 

Learn more.

 

Resources for Teens

  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 
  • Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310 / Online chat: www.hopeforwellness.ca 
  • Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (24/7)
  • For Quebec residents: 1-866-APPELLE (277-3553) (24/7) 

 

EHN Online can help. Contact us to learn more about the Healthy Minds Comprehensive Teen Program.

 

Sources

[1] Government of Canada (2006). The human face of mental health and mental illness in Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.

[2] Pearson, Janz and Ali (2013). Health at a glance: Mental and substance use disorders in Canada. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-624-X.

[3] Kessler RC, Angermeyer M, Anthony JC, et al. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of mental disorders in the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative. World Psychiatry 2007; 6: 168–76

[4] Government of Canada. The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada, 2006. Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada. Catalogue no.: HP5-19/2006E.

[5] American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 1995.

[6] Mental Health Commission of Canada (2013). Making the case for investing in mental health in Canada.

[7] Findlay L. Depression and suicidal ideation among Canadians aged 15 to 24. Health Rep. 2017 Jan 18;28(1):3-11. PMID: 28098916.

[8] Anxiety, Depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (n.d.). The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Retrieved July 18, 2021, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/anxiety-depression-obsessive-compulsive-disorder

[9] Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2020). Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Study, 1977–2019. https://www.camh.ca//-/media/files/pdf—osduhs/drugusereport_2019osduhs-pdf.pdf

[10] Breslau, N. et al., Sleep Disturbance and Psychiatric Disorders: A Longitudinal Epidemiological Study of Young Adults, Biological Psychiatry. Mar 1996; 39(6): 411–418.

[11] McCarty, D., Braude, L., Lyman, D. R., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S., Ghose, S. S., & Delphin-Rittmon, M. E. (2014). Substance abuse intensive outpatient programs: assessing the evidence. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.)65(6), 718–726. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ps.201300249

Are you enabling a loved one’s addiction?

Are you enabling a loved one’s addiction?

If you’ve ever watched a loved one struggle with an addiction, you know it can be a heart wrenching, isolating, and frustrating experience.

There are many different ways to support a loved one going through an addiction, but how do we know if we’re — consciously or not — enabling  their behaviour? If we know the traits of an enabler, we can stop our behaviour in its tracks and better empower our family or friends to seek life-saving treatment or harm reduction services.

What is enabling?

Simply put, “enabling” means to contribute to or support someone’s self-destructive behaviour. According to the American Psychological Association, an enabler is typically an intimate partner or good friend who passively permits or unwittingly encourages this behaviour in the other person; often, the enabler is aware of the destructiveness of the person’s behaviour but feels powerless to prevent it.”

It’s important to remember that while there is often a negative stigma attached to the term, we’re most likely not acting maliciously or trying to do any harm as enablers. Most people are trying to be loving and supportive, but just don’t know how. That said, if we can be conscious of our enabling, we are in a better position to help our loved ones recover by empowering them to change.

What does enabling an addiction look like?

When it comes to addiction or substance use disorders, like alcoholism, there’s more to being an enabler than actively encouraging or participating in the behaviour. Here are some examples of enabling that are a bit more subtle:

Making excuses

When we love someone, it’s easy to make excuses for all sorts of negative, self-sabotaging behaviour. But when it comes to substance use, the stakes can be high. This might look like telling other friends or family that someone’s addiction “isn’t that bad,” or excusing it altogether.

This is tempting and can seem innocent, but it shields the person from the real consequences of their actions.

Bailing them out

Addiction can impact every aspect of a person’s life, making it difficult to keep up with important commitments or obligations. In more severe cases, they can fall into financial or legal trouble.

Family and friends help each other out in the toughest of times. So, if we have the means to pay legal fees, repay debts, or loan money to someone in a bind, we often feel like this is the right thing to do. While it is kind and understandable to want to make someone’s life a little bit easier, this can actually encourage their addiction.

For someone trying to recover from an addiction, knowing they have people in their corner can make all the difference. But financially supporting their habits might give them a false sense of security and delay the realization that their substance use has become a serious problem.

Blaming others

We know that addiction isn’t a “choice” and that there are several biological and social factors that make some people more vulnerable. That said, when a loved one is struggling with addiction, it isn’t productive to blame other people for their actions.

It’s easy to place blame on a friend who actively encourages or joins in on their substance use, the strict boss, the spouse or partner that broke their heart, our ourselves. But it’s important to remember that this doesn’t help.

There will be people that are objectively toxic for someone who is trying to recover from addiction — but blaming these people for the addiction itself takes away the addicted person’s agency and teaches them that they are not self-sufficient.

Covering up or lying

If someone you care about is constantly forgetting or skipping important commitments, you might find yourself lying to others on their behalf. While this might seem helpful, or like you’re saving the person some embarrassment or stress, it is not recommended. By hiding your loved one’s addiction, you’re making it less likely they will be held accountable. In order to seek treatment, someone must fully understand the consequences of their substance use issues. It might seem harsh to not cover up for someone you love, but doing so is ultimately counterproductive.


Check out our recent blog on how to support a loved one struggling with addiction.

How can I help? 

Addiction recovery is a group effort

A strong support system can make a huge difference in someone’s recovery. Here are some steps you can take to help someone in your family who is showing signs of an addiction or substance use disorder:

  • Educate yourself. There is plenty of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding addiction and mental illness. Having a better understanding of what your loved one is experiencing physically and mentally will foster empathy and open dialogue. In fact, your loved one might not fully realize that they have an addiction.
  • Express your concerns. If you have an intimate relationship with a person struggling with addiction, you are likely the best person to start this conversation. You don’t have to be an expert, but it is important to tell your loved one how much you care and that they have your support.
  • Support yourself. Supporting a loved one with an addiction can be extremely draining – you don’t have to do it alone. Consider joining a loved one support group like Al-Anon and sharing your experiences in a safe environment. Check to see if your loved one’s treatment program includes family support or therapy.
  • Research treatment options. Certified clinics offer outpatient or inpatient (live-in) treatment options and a variety of different therapies. Whichever facility you choose, make sure the clinicians are accredited and registered with their relevant professional college.

Edgewood Health Network can help

At EHN Online, we believe that all families impacted by addiction deserve support. Those who participate in our programs can invite loved ones to join monthly online Family Education Workshops and continuing care groups. In these workshops, friends and family can learn to assist their loved ones as they integrate recovery skills into daily life, as well as receive education on how to maintain their own wellbeing along the way. In addition, Family Aftercare is a weekly group offered virtually for family members. Learn more.

Contact us to learn more about our IOPs and Family Programs.

Resources to help you:

Info-Social 811
811

ParentsLine
1-800-361-5085

Wellness Space Canada
1-888-417-2074

Al-Anon
Support group for relatives

Sources

APA Dictionary of Psychology – Enabling. (2020). American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/enabling.

Juergens, J., & Hampton, D. (2021, May 6). What Is an Enabler? – Stop Enabling Today. Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/treatment/stage-intervention/what-is-an-enabler/