Did you know that young men some of the most serious mental health issues out of any group? Even so, only 13% of them seek help. And, that’s a major problem.
Your son is moody. He’s acting out, he’s anxious or he’s just not his usual self. What’s going on? He could be suffering silently from a mental health disorder.
The Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing found that one in seven children ages 4 through 17-years has had a diagnosable mental disorder. The survey also found that males were more likely than females to have experienced some sort of mental health issue (within the 12 months prior to the data collection). Of these children, teens were almost three times more likely to have a mental disorder that was characterized as “severe.”
With the prevalence of mental disorders among Australian youth (560,000 children had a disorder that was diagnosed within 12 months prior to participating in the survey), it’s crucial that mums and dads pay close attention to what’s going on with their kids’ moods. That’s right – both mums and dads.
So, you think your child isn’t at risk? Maybe your family doesn’t have a history of mental health issues. Or your child has made it all the way into his teen years without as much as a hint of a problem. These don’t mean that your child is completely in the clear. A recent romantic break up, pressure from school/exams, experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol, bullying, gender identity exploration and traumatic or tragic events can all trigger mental health problems.
Here’s the thing, you can’ necessarily rely on your son to come to you for help. He may feel depressed, anxious or have some other mental health issue, and never say a word. Why not? It’s not always easy for boys to talk about their feelings – especially as they get older.
Sure, your son may have run to you for a hug when he was 4- or 5-years old. But, at 14 or 15, he’s more likely to keep quiet and suffer without you knowing. This means you need to know the warning signs of mental health difficulties.
Some of these signs may be fleeting. Everyone experiences sadness or anxiety at some point or another. One sad day or being noticeably anxious before a major exam doesn’t equal a diagnosable disorder. It’s when these symptoms persist over time, or are sudden and severe, that should be cause for alarm. These symptoms may include (but aren’t limited to): Unwillingness to participate in normal activities, changes in appetite, changes in sleeping patterns, quick/easy to anger, constantly seeming irritated, a drop in school performance, engaging in risky behaviour (such as taking drugs or drinking alcohol), concentration or motivation difficulties, seeming depressed or down on himself for no obvious reason or expressing unusual or bizarre thoughts.
What happens if you start noticing some of these warning symptoms? Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, provides early intervention mental health services for young people ages 12 through 25-years. This includes information on their website, headspace centres and online counseling via eheadspace.
Keep in mind mums, you aren’t the only parent who can watch out for your son. The headspace pros recommend getting dad in on the watch as well. Whether it’s a conversation in the car, or during any other activity, dad needs to show that he is there for his son. Far too often it’s mum who thinks she should be the sensitive one who looks out for anything wrong with the kids. And, she should. Every parent should. But, dads shouldn’t leave themselves out of the picture.
There’s no easy way to start a conversation about mental health with your child – especially if your son resists telling you what’s going on in his head. Just remember, this isn’t just any conversation. It’s one of the most important ones you may ever have. Act calmly and make sure that your child knows you aren’t upset, angry or disappointed with him. Do what feels right and reassure him that you’re there no matter what.
If you suspect your child has a mental health problem and he refuses to open up or flat out denies it, bring in the experts. Getting professional help is a primary part of helping your child to deal with the problems at hand. Don’t worry, getting help doesn’t mean you’re a parenting failure. There’s a reason why mental health professionals exist. And, it just might be time to work together with one in order to help your child.