Adolescence is a time of change and rapid growth, physically, emotionally, mentally and socially. During these years teenagers experience new-found independence as they differentiate from parents, form new relationships, possibly say goodbye to old ones, and discover new experiences. Teenagers begin to process thoughts differently, uncover their sexual identity, and make strong social connections in an effort to find their place in society. During this period emotions are felt more intensely due to massive flooding of hormones in the adolescent brain – which is growing at a rate much faster than the teenager can process.
It is during this sensitive time that adolescents become vulnerable to mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, and panic attacks. Often depression can look different in teenagers and be expressed as anger or irritable mood, as opposed to the more typical presentation of isolation, persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness, tearfulness, lack of motivation to do things they once enjoyed, disrupted eating and sleeping patterns, and emotional outbursts. If not treated promptly, depression can trigger high risk behaviors, self-medication and addiction, and can progress to suicidal thoughts and/or suicide attempts.
Anxiety can also look different in teenagers and present as perfectionism, a need to control one’s environment at all times, self-harm, or irrational thoughts, fears, and concerns about future events. Anxiety, like depression, can severely impact a teenager’s day-to-day functioning and their abilities to form healthy social bonds with their peers. If you suspect your teenager is struggling with anxiety or depression, getting help sooner rather than later is imperative to your teenager’s developing mental health. Building strong, healthy coping skills as we move into adulthood increases our chances of success in life.