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Understanding and Supporting Mental Health in Adolescents

Teenage girl talking with adult

  • What are possible emerging mental health concerns in adolescents?

  • What are some indicators your teenager is struggling with their mental health?

  • How can I access mental health treatment for my teenager?

  • What resources and support can I access for my teenager?

Understanding and supporting emerging mental health concerns in adolescents is important in this critical time of change.

Adolescence, the period covering ages 10-19 years, is an extraordinarily unique and formative time. Even under ideal circumstances, navigating the huge physical, emotional and social changes that occur at this age can be difficult.

Understandably, when parents and caregivers start noticing something not quite right with a teenager’s mental health, it can be incredibly overwhelming and worrying for everyone.

By the time a child reaches adolescence, a range of habits have already been established.

Good sleep hygiene, an exercise schedule, and healthy strategies with which to manage and regulate emotions are just the beginning. Often, however, if these habits are not well maintained or for some external reason, they are disrupted, several problems can arise.

What are possible emerging mental health concerns in adolescents?

There are a range of disorders and concerns that teenagers might struggle with including,

  1. Emotional disorders, most commonly anxiety and depression which present with sudden onset of mood or personality changes. Each can lead to school refusal and poor engagement in learning as well as other more serious indications such as self- harm, risky behaviour and substance abuse.

  2. Behavioural disorders including ADHD and conduct disorders that can affect education outcomes and lead to a propensity for criminal or unsafe behaviour changes such as increased isolation or impulsive/risk taking behaviours.

  3. Eating Disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia which can affect healthy self-perception and the successful maintenance of relationships.

  4. Some other serious psychological conditions that present with psychosis, hallucinations, delusions or dissociative episodes.

What are some indicators your teenager is struggling with their mental health?

If a teenager’s mental health is sound, then their confidence in themselves and capacity for coping with life’s challenges are more likely to be high.

While it’s normal to for all of us to experience emotional ups and downs, when one or more of the following starts to occur regularly, or the intensity of any of these experiences begin to adversely impact daily living, then it might be time to act.

  1. Oversleeping often, difficulty sleeping or a marked change in sleeping habits

  2. Always feeling lethargic or tired, or conversely, feeling unusually energetic, worried or over-anxious.

  3. Disengagement or non-participation in school or family life

  4. Out of character bursts of anger, tears or lashing out verbally or physically

  5. A noticeable change in eating habits, significant weight loss or gain

  6. Being secretive or unusually quiet and withdrawn

  7. Any personality or habit changes that cause concern or that are having a negative impact on daily life.

How can I access mental health treatment for my teenager?

Early intervention is key to finding the right treatment and support for your teenager. Currently up to 20 sessions with a practising mental health professional (a qualified psychologist) are subsidised through Medicare.

To access these sessions, make an appointment with your GP (you will need to let reception know you’d like a longer consultation than usual for this purpose).

During this appointment the teen will be asked some questions related to health and family background and asked to complete a questionnaire. Unless additional information or tests are required, and if it is agreed the adolescent could benefit from additional professional support, the Dr will draw up what is known as a Mental Health Care Plan which is just like a specialist referral.

This referral contains information that can be shared between your GP and chosen psychologist (ask your Dr for recommendations if you don’t know where to start looking – lots of practices specialise in therapy for children and teens) and reviewed and updated over time.

At these appointments, and with regular reviews with your GP, all options for treatment, including talk therapy in a range of different techniques as well as medication will be discussed.

What resources and support can I access for my teenager?

 As a starting place before you do decide to consult with any health care professional, and certainly while you are waiting for your first appointment (many practices have waiting lists), there are a range of free support services available:

  1. Kids Helpline (telephone online counselling for ages 5-25) — call 1800 55 1800

  2. Headspace (mental health service for ages 12-25) (online & phone support)

  3. (youth mental health service) — online help

  4. SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) — call 1800 18 7263

  5. Lifeline (support for anyone having a personal crisis) — call 13 11 14

  6. Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467


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