Adolescent behaviour may be a cry for help

When a person, regardless of age, is faced with mental health problems, they may prefer to keep it a secret, anticipating that it could be seen as a sign of weakness, potentially threatening their future choices, friendships and quality of life. She may adopt a rigid upper lip, not wanting to reveal how vulnerable or fragile she feels. However, this approach rarely improves things, and bottling things up can sometimes cause problems to escalate.

As long as we are not affected or lose a loved one, we rarely have any idea of the staggering statistics regarding mental health, stress and suicide. Every 40 seconds someone in the world commits suicide and it is still the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK! We have recently had some important reminders in our agendas; Mourning Awareness Day, World Suicide Prevention Day, the anniversary of the Twin Towers, World Mental Health Day, all these days remind us of the fragility of life and the importance of supporting each other.

There are ways to help ourselves and others to live a more “connected” life. Let’s start by considering young people, who often have so much to do in their lives. Fear of missing out is often a factor, as their friends post images of their busy and amazing lives on social media. It doesn’t matter if these images are posed, edited and posted for public consumption. A young person may simply see their friends as happier, more popular and more successful than they are.

They may find themselves in a circle where they feel intimidated, inferior, ostracized, different. They may be struggling with their sexuality, their identity, worrying about their future choices and options. If they compare themselves unfavourably to other family members, it can be difficult for them to feel like a failure and not want to be a disappointment.

Some bad behaviour may be part of a teen’s job description, but it is still important to stay connected to their lives.

  • Be attentive. Is the youth behaving differently, is there a change in attitude? Has he or she become angry, moody, quiet, goes out less often, spends more time in the bedroom? Sometimes young people do not want to worry, upset or disappoint their loved ones. But this can make their stress levels worse as they struggle to cope and stay strong.
  • Try to sit and eat together regularly to strengthen the family bond. It also helps to notice if something is wrong, if their appetite has changed, if they are withdrawn or unhappy.
  • Treat everyone as an individual and do things separately rather than always doing them with “the kids. Respect their uniqueness. In this way, you help them develop and become their own person.
  • Teach them to practice gratitude. Cultivate the habit of being grateful for at least three things every day. Having someone compliment them, having running water, having food on the table can be a start.
  • Make sure there are opportunities for “light” conversations, rather than sitting down, more formal conversations. Chatting while cooking or driving may be a good time for “you seem a little calmer lately” type conversations. An informal conversation can be more beneficial than a full interview and allow them to discuss their concerns.
  • Provide a space for them to talk freely. It can be tempting to finish their sentences or question what they are thinking, but even a complicit silence can sometimes be enough when they allow time to reflect and deal with what is going on internally.
  • Praise them for what they do well and include some of these activities in family time so that they receive regular confidence boosters. It is good to let them share their enthusiasm with the rest of the family.
  • Remind them that failure is not serious. It is important to test their limits and get out of their comfort zone. But this means taking the risk of failure, that not everything will be won or work out as planned, even after a lot of effort and commitment. Failure can be one of life’s lights and shadows; learning to cope with setbacks and rejections teaches resilience. Getting back on your feet is an important lesson for adult life.
  • Encourage them to give back. Volunteering and focusing on something else, such as an animal shelter or a visit from an elderly neighbor, can be a way to expand their world, learn empathy and see the big picture.
  • Talk to their teacher to find out how things are going at school or university. Has their behaviour changed, is there anything to worry about? Sometimes a red flag can be raised if your child suddenly becomes immersed in their work, avoiding socializing and detaching from previous groups of friends.

Also, don’t consider it a failure to see your family doctor or therapist. It can provide valuable advice and be the first step in your child’s recovery.