We’ve all heard the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Even though we know better, we sometimes let ourselves believe that other families are faring better in the child-rearing department. Peering through rose-colored windows into their homes, we think we see better adjusted, higher-achieving, problem-free, perfectly behaved children who are gliding happily through adolescence toward becoming model teens and successful young adults.
We need to get over that notion. It’s just not true. The statistics tell us that one in five adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder, and about one in three show clear symptoms of depression. However, the majority are not getting any kind of treatment because the symptoms go unrecognized and undiagnosed.
If you’re still thinking about that greener grass, look around your neighborhood and consider this: one in five families may be dealing with a teen who is depressed or anxious, or who is self-harming, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, or exhibiting behaviors such as anger, aggression or withdrawal. Statistically, every classroom in your teen’s school has five or six students with symptoms of depression.
Left untreated, mental health issues can lead to other problems, like poor grades, conflicts with family and friends, substance abuse, broken relationships, and trouble with the law. It can also put a child at increased risk for suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among Texas youth.
It makes sense, actually. If a person is not well—whether it be a bout of the flu, clinical depression or debilitating anxiety—the ability to get through daily life is impaired, from performing the simplest tasks to the demanding roles of school and relationships.
Here’s another statistic to ponder: About half of all psychiatric illnesses begin before the age of 14. Yet, on average, nine years pass between the time when symptoms appear and treatment is sought. That is too long. Failing to see and act on symptoms of mental distress robs our children and teens of their health and compromises their well-being during the years when so much important development and learning takes place.
We can do better. First, we can learn to recognize the symptoms of a mental or emotional disorder as easily as we recognize the signs of an oncoming cold. Common symptoms include persistent irritability, sadness, anger, or social withdrawal, as well as major changes in appetite or sleep. Children who are depressed may become overwhelmed or exhausted. They may stop participating in activities they formerly enjoyed. Other possible symptoms include chronic pain, headaches or stomach aches.
When we see such changes in behavior and mood, it’s tempting to chalk it up to typical teenage behavior or blame it on hormones. But it is far wiser to consider the possibility that something else is going on and get it checked out. Like any other medical condition, it is important to get a checkup from a qualified professional.
Unfortunately, the stigma around mental health disorders keeps some adolescents and their families from seeking help. That’s a shame, because depression is highly treatable. With medication, therapy, or a combination of the two, most people with depression can be effectively treated.
Getting treatment for a mental health disorder, especially when begun soon after symptoms appear, can reduce its impact on an adolescent’s life and provide tools that help a teen deal with the stress and pressures of life.
Here’s the truth about green grass. Everyone’s lawn gets weeds and brown patches sometimes. But when tended properly, those problems can be remedied and the grass restored to its natural, healthy state. We should do so well with our children.
Learn more about adolescent mental health and suicide prevention at www.GrantHalliburton.org.
How can I tell if my teen is depressed?
Know the symptoms.
It’s normal for teens and young adults to feel down or moody sometimes. But when those feelings last for weeks, it could mean that something more serious is going on. Depression is very common—in fact, it affects over 2 million young people. Here is a list of what the symptoms look like in a teen:
It helps to know the signs:
- You feel sad or cry a lot and it doesn’t go away.
- You feel guilty for no real reason; you feel like you’re no good; you’ve lost your confidence.
- Life seems meaningless or like nothing good is ever going to happen again.
- You have a negative attitude a lot of the time, or it seems like you have no feelings.
- You don’t feel like doing a lot of the things you used to enjoy–like music, sports, being with friends, going out–and you want to be left alone most of the time.
- It’s hard to make up your mind. You forget lots of things, and it’s hard to concentrate.
- You get irritated often. Little things make you lose your temper; you overreact.
- Your sleep pattern changes; you sleep a lot more or a lot less than you used to.
- Eating habits change; you’ve lost your appetite or you eat a lot more.
- You’re using drugs or alcohol to cope.
- You start having aches or pains that won’t go away.
- You feel restless and tired most of the time.
- You think about death or feel like you’re dying; you have thoughts about suicide.
Know what to do.
- Seek professional help. Don’t wait to see if depression will get better.
- See a doctor who can check for physical illnesses that can cause symptoms of depression.
- Understand the treatment. What works best in most cases is medication or therapy, or both. Therapy can help a person find better ways to solve problems and change negative thoughts.
- Stick with the plan. Don’t miss therapy sessions and don’t stop taking medications without talking to the doctor.
- Stay healthy. Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.
- Get involved in positive activities.
- Keep a journal of feelings to help determine triggers and effective treatments for depression.
- Tell someone if you feel suicidal. Call 800-273-8255 to talk to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.
Need help now?
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm:
- Call 1-800-273-8255, a 24-hour crisis hotline that will help you connect with mental health resources in your area.
- Dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
- Call the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386, a 24-hour toll-free confidential crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
- Consult the Here For Youth Crisis Intervention Resources Directory, a starting point to help you find mental health resources for children, teens and young adults in North Texas. www.granthalliburton.org/images/here-for-youth-directory.pdf
For more information and resources:
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Grant Halliburton Foundation
Half of Us
Online resource for college youth
Mental Health America
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health
Online resource for college mental health
The Grant Halliburton Foundation
The Grant Halliburton Foundation was established in 2006 in memory of a gifted Dallas artist and musician who battled depression and bipolar disorder for several years before taking his own life at the age of 19.
Determined to help prevent the loss of other young lives to suicide, Grant Halliburton’s family launched the foundation that bears his name, with this at its mission: To help prevent suicide, promote better mental health and strengthen the network of mental health resources for teens and young adults.
The Foundation works to educate teens, young adults, parents and professionals about mental health and suicide prevention; encourage young people living with mental illness and their families; and engage the community of providers and stakeholders to work together on strengthening the safety net around these young people.
Among the programs offered by the Foundation are:
- TAG, You’re It! An educational training program that teaches teens—as well as school counselors, staff, parents and providers—how to recognize and help someone in crisis. This program has reached more than 6,000 young people and adults in the North Texas area.
- When Life Hands You Teenagers. An annual educational conference for parents, educators, counselors and others who work with youth.
- Coffee Days and Dad2Dad. Free peer support groups for parents of youth with mental health issues, meeting monthly to share resources, support and encouragement.
- I AM H·E·R·E Coalition. The only coalition in North Texas focused solely on youth mental health. More than 50 organizations and individuals—including hospitals, agencies, law enforcement, juvenile justice, school districts, and mental health professionals—are working together on initiatives such as:
- Here For Youth, a new website featuring a searchable database of resources for youth mental health in North Texas, scheduled for launch in early 2015.
- The Living Room, a network of free peer support groups in the community that allows teens with mental health issues to connect with and support one another.
- Windows to Hope, an annual conference designed to empower faith leaders to recognize and help youth who are struggling.
Simply put, the Foundation’s goal is to make a difference in, improve the health of, and save the lives of teens and young adults with mental illness. Learn more at www.GrantHalliburton.org.