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Are My Child’s Behavioral Problems a Sign of a Mental Health Disorder? First Steps for Diagnosing & Treating Your Adolescent’s Underlying Issues

Teen Mental Health

It’s a fact - the number of teens reporting poor mental health is increasing. The CDC reports that over 40% of adolescents felt “persistently sad or hopeless” and over a third of young adults felt their mental health was declining. As a parent, these are alarming statistics to read. Noticing behavioral problems in our children and wondering if these issues could be signs of a deeper, underlying teenage mental health disorder is frightening. We want the best for our kids. Knowing what to look for and addressing these concerns early is crucial for your child’s well-being and development and a healthier family dynamic. 


The Signs


When kids grow into teenagers their behavior changes. It’s a normal pattern of maturation. However if you notice certain behaviors or unusual patterns, these may indicate a more serious mental health concern. Here are a few signs to watch for: 

  • Persistent Sadness or Irritability: Teenage mood swings are typical. It’s when your kid seems constantly sad, withdrawn, isolated, or unusually irritable for an extended period that they may be suffering from depression or another mood disorder. 
  • Severe Mood Swings: Emotional issues such as bipolar disorder can present themselves as frequent and extreme changes in mood, beyond what you would typically see from an adolescent. 
  • Changes in Sleeping or Eating Habits: Be on the lookout for significant changes in sleep (amounts or routine) and appetite. Big alterations in either of these can be a red flag for depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. 
  • Declining Academic Performance: If your teen used to make good grades but suddenly you notice a drop in their academic performance, they could be struggling with a mental health crisis. Any disinterest in activities which they used to enjoy, especially if sudden and unexplainable is usually a good sign that something is amiss. 
  • Social Withdrawal: Substance abuse, anxiety, and depression go hand-in-hand with isolation and avoiding family, friends, and social activities. 
  • Substance Abuse: While using drugs and alcohol is a problem in its own right, it can also be an indicator of a deeper problem. Teens will often use drugs to self-medicate against emotions, stress, or trauma. 
  • Self-Harm or Talk of Suicide: Any inkling of self-harm or suicidal ideation should be taken extremely seriously and treated as an emergency requiring immediate intervention. 


First Steps in Diagnosing


If you suspect your child may have a mental health disorder, taking proactive steps is essential. Here’s how to begin:

  1. Talk to Your Kid: This isn’t a problem that is going to resolve itself. Start a conversation with your teen and establish an open, honest, and supportive dialogue. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns but do so without judgment. Actively listen to what they are saying and validate their feelings. Let them know you’re there to love them unconditionally. 
  2. Keep a Journal: Documenting concerning behaviors, mood changes, and other potential mental health symptoms is a good way to keep track of things. This can help you recognize if it’s a one-time teenager thing or a consistent pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed. Not the frequency, duration, and intensity of their behavior as well as any triggers which might have contributed to it. 
  3. Consult with Teachers and Counselors: Reach out to your child’s school to see if they have noticed any changes in behavior or performance. Teachers and school counselors can provide valuable insights and may suggest further steps.
  4. Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment: If necessary, set up a preliminary appointment with your child's pediatrician or family doctor. Working with a medical provider allows you to get a baseline evaluation, rule out any physical health issues, and help you find the proper mental health resources should they be needed. 


Seeking Professional Help


If needed, don’t shy away from consulting with mental health professionals. Here are some options:

  • Child Psychologists & Psychiatrists: These specialists can diagnose and treat mental health disorders in children and adolescents. Psychiatrists can also prescribe medication when necessary.
  • Licensed Therapists & Counselors: Clinical social workers or licensed professional counselors can provide therapy to help your child manage their emotions and behaviors. They will also be able to provide early intervention and let you know if a higher level of care is needed. 
  • School-Based Services: Many schools offer access to counselors and psychologists who can support your child during school hours. Talk with the guidance counselor at your teen’s school for resources. 
  • Adolescent Treatment Program: Sometimes residential treatment may be necessary. Adolescent in-patient programs provide a safe, supportive place for your teen to stabilize, get the therapeutic support they need, and get connected with a peer support community.


Supporting Your Child


Your parental role is critical to supporting your child through their mental health journey. Here are some tips to help:

  • Be Patient & Understanding: Working through mental health issues is a challenging and often slow process. Understand that your child is doing their best to cope with their feelings. Don’t push them. 
  • Educate Yourself: Learn about your child’s condition and the best ways to support their treatment and well-being.
  • Maintain Open Communication: Encourage your teen to speak openly with you and create an on-going dialogue.
  • Seek Support for Yourself: Parenting a child with mental health issues can be challenging. Don’t forget to prioritize your own self-care so you can be the best parent possible. 

Learn More About Stonewater


Early intervention is key when it comes to identifying and addressing mental health concerns in our kids. If you are worried about your teen, call Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center today. As a family run treatment program, we know what it’s like to face the unknown and we’re here to help you walk through it to the other side. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and help is available for both you and your child. Call us today.