It’s no surprise your preteen or teen is moody, right?
But how often and how long is OK?
Periods of teenage angst may last for a couple of days. However, chronic or prolonged behavioral and mood changes — when your teen is sad or moping around for two weeks or longer — can indicate a mental health concern, says Renée Layman, chief executive officer for the Center for Child Counseling, which receives funding from Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.
Children can develop the same mental health issues as adults, but often express them differently. Parents and caregivers need to examine the nature, intensity, severity and duration of a problem within the context of knowing their own child to determine whether changes are out of character. In other words, trust your judgement.
“Warning signs or red flags that your child may be struggling with mental health issues are if the behavioral changes are intense or out of proportion to stress or changes in the environment, which can include shutting down emotionally or displays of physical aggression,” Layman says. “A depressed child may show more irritability, where an adult typically shows sadness.”
Differences between moodiness and depression
During the early teenage years, there is a natural separation from parents that is part of seeking independence. An example of this includes spending less time engaged in family activities in favor of texting friends or scanning social media.
“Your teen may experience intense emotions, especially revolving around friendships and boyfriend/girlfriend drama,” Layman says. “Things that may not seem like a big deal to you may seem overwhelming and world ending to your teen.”
Children may lack the maturity to explain their problems, so it’s often up to the parent to assess whether behaviors aren’t typical for their child.
“Not all teens exhibit the same symptoms, so it’s important that parents trust their gut instincts and look for changes,” says Patrice Schroeder, Community Relations specialist for 211 HelpLine. For example, rapid weight loss or gain may accompany changes in eating and sleeping habits.
“Eating disorders have the highest fatality rate of any mental health disorder,” she says.
Palm Beach County families can turn for help
If you’re a parent looking for answers, you can call the community helpline and crisis hotline at 2-1-1 any time of day or night. Trained resource specialists can assist with crisis intervention, suicide prevention, information, assessment and referrals to local community services for all ages.
“Early detection and intervention is key in helping children to have positive mental health outcomes as they transition into their teens and then on into adulthood,” Schroeder says. “Calls to 211 are free and confidential” and answered in English, Spanish and Creole.
The Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County also has free online screening tools (and a helpline) for youth and parents. Screening survey topics include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome and psychosis.
The association encourages people to call with questions about their screening results.
“Depression or anxiety can affect any family,” says Pam Gionfriddo, the association’s former chief executive officer. “We want to help families understand they are not alone. Call 561-801-HELP (4357) to talk with someone who cares and who can match you with someone who can help.”
Palm Beach County now also has a Children's Behavioral Health Collaborative, a group of five local mental health organizations that assess children's needs and provide access to mental health services.
Five signs your child may need counseling:
Parents know their own child better than anyone else and are the best people to assess whether their behaviors and emotions are out of the norm. Watch for:
• Mood changes (sadness, withdrawal, mood swings)
• Behavioral changes (wanting to hurt others, aggression, self-harm)
• Intense feelings (worries, fears, anxiety)
•. Physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches)
• Concentration problems (trouble focusing or sitting still)
• Pam Gionfriddo, former chief executive officer, Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County
• Patrice Schroeder, Community Relations specialist, 211 HelpLine
• Renée Layman, chief executive officer, Center for Child Counseling
• Children's Behavioral Health Collaborative