Know what signs signal that your mental health struggles are more than normal life stress
As families settle into their back-to-school routines, many get wrapped up in activities, sports, and other commitments. It can be hard to differentiate regular life stress from a mental health condition. Recognizing when family members may need help is important. It can be easy to brush off warning signs in kids since they are not always obvious. Below, we outline some of the signs to watch for and what to do when you see them.
Warning Signs In Young Children
Children have different fears and some anxiety at each stage of their life. It can be hard to know when those normal childhood issues and emotions start to become warning signs of something more. As a child grows and they do not outgrow normal childhood fears and they begin to affect their school or ability to play or be with friends, which may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
According to the CDC, Examples of different types of anxiety disorders include:
Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety).
Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias).
Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety).
Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety).
Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder).
Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping and physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.
Depression can vary in children. While it's normal for children to be grouchy or sad at times, it may be a sign of depression if those moods are lasting for extended periods of time.
According to the Child Mind Institute, the following signs may also be present:
Being easily annoyed
Lacking energy or seeming lazy
Trouble making decisions
Struggling in school
Low self-esteem or saying negative things about themselves
Having trouble talking to friends
Eating too little or too much
Gaining or losing a lot of weight
Being tired all the time
Thinking about or attempting suicide
What to Do
If you're concerned your child might have anxiety or depression, the sooner you take action the better. Early intervention can help prevent the escalation of symptoms and improve treatment outcomes.
Start by talking with your child; ask them how they are doing. Not all children will tell you how they are feeling. Young children don't always have the ability to understand what they are feeling, so looking out for them “masking” their emotions. Talk to the other adults in their life like teachers and coaches. Tell them what is going on and see if they have noticed any changes. Consult a mental health professional and share your concerns. Together you can determine the potential issue and discuss treatment plan options.
Treatment usually consists of therapy, such as play therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, and sometimes medication. If medication is needed, it’s important to consult with a child psychiatrist since they are well-versed in which medications are best for young children. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has compiled a list of questions that parents should ask the provider who is prescribing medication.
Warning Signs In Teens
On top of all the hormonal changes and physical growth of adolescence, teens are also in the midst of developing their identities, forming relationships outside the family, and navigating the challenges of school and/or a job. However, there is a difference between typical teenage angst and signs of depression in teens. In addition to observing the intensity of a teen’s feelings and behavior, parents need to consider the length of time these feelings last and the domains in which they take place. For example, do they seem depressed at home, but not when they’re at school or with friends? Or is the depressive behavior consistent across all situations? If the warning signs are severe, last more than a week or two, and extend to multiple areas of a teen’s life, they may have one of the various types of teen depression.
An estimated 3.2 million adolescents in the United States have had at least one major depressive episode. According to PsychCentral, depression can happen at any age, but the symptoms often start in the teenage years or in early adulthood. The symptoms of depression in teenagers aren’t the same as symptoms of depression in adults, but they’re similar.
What to look for:
Feeling down or blue
Frequent sadness, tearfulness, or crying
Feeling more irritable, angry, or hostile
Feeling hopeless, or like everything in life is going wrong
Less interest or pleasure from your usual activities
Persistent boredom with a lack of motivation to get out of boredom
Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Poor performance in school
Withdrawing from friends and family
Low self-esteem or feelings of guilt
Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
Difficulty with relationships
Changes in appetite (eating too much or too little)
Changes in sleep
Suicidal thoughts or actions
Thinking about and imagining suicide—is one of the most serious signs of depression in teens. It is not the same as planning suicide and does not indicate that a teen will definitely make an attempt, but it is a clear indication of underlying depression or another mental health issue. Learn more about suicidal ideation in teens.
Support for Teens & Young Adults: Check out these local resources
Parent & Caregiver Burnout As rewarding as it may be, being a parent is not easy. As a parent, you tend to focus on the needs of your children and family rather than your own. Ignoring your own needs and well-being for too long may result in parental burnout, leaving you feeling exhausted and like you have nothing left to give. Even worse, there is often a sense of shame or guilt for feeling tired and detached.
According to WebMD, parental burnout leads to overwhelming exhaustion, emotional distancing from your children, and a sense of being a poor or ineffective parent. These effects can take a severe toll on your mental health. The mental health effects of parental burnout can affect your overall health too. As burnout progresses, you may develop hormonal imbalances, which can lead to a decreased sex drive. If you have chronic poor sleep, your risk of serious health conditions like heart disease and diabetes increases. Higher stress levels can also raise your chances of serious health issues.
Depending upon your level of parental burnout, the impact on your mental health may include:
Limited tolerance (shorter temper)
Increased stress levels
Feelings of isolation
While it may sound impossible sometimes, it’s important you practice self-care every single day. This is important for you, your partner, and your family. Parental burnout can lead to a breakdown in your relationship with your partner. Lack of communication and connection can lead to arguments and emotional distance. Burnout can also impact your relationship with your children. You may not feel connected to them and as if you're going through the motions. This emotional distance can impact their development and cause issues in the long-term.
What to Do The most important thing to do is check in with yourself. Be honest about how you are feeling. If you are feeling trapped, overwhelmed, angry or sad most of the time, it’s time to ask for help. Depending on the level of burnout you are experiencing, you may need to consult a mental health professional. Therapy and/or medication may be needed to help you cope in the short-term while you work on learning to incorporate self-care and other coping strategies into your life.
You can start by taking an online screening at Mental Health America. Following the screening, you will be provided with information, resources, and tools to help you understand and improve your mental health. Please note: Online screening tools are meant to be a quick snapshot of your mental health. If your results indicate you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, consider sharing your results with a mental health provider (such as a doctor or a therapist) who can give you a full assessment and talk to you about options for how to feel better.
The Hub has resources guides in English and Spanish and a support group guide that you can download to find local treatment and support options. There is also a variety of additional information on The Hub website.
If you need immediate help, you can reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or using the chat box at 988lifeline.org/chat. You can also text “HELP” to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. Warmlines are an excellent place for non-crisis support.
Additional Online Resources for More Information