Changes in young people
Young people can go through many different changes as they grow up. Raising sensitive issues and resolving problems that arise along the way can be challenging for them.
It can often be hard as a parent to know the difference between normal behaviour, such as occasional moodiness and irritability, and an emerging mental health problem.
If a young person develops a mental health problem it is important that they get support from both their family and friends and health professionals.
Mental health and mental health problems in young people
Feeling down, tense, angry, anxious or moody are all normal emotions for young people, but when these feelings persist for long periods of time, or if they begin to interfere with their daily life, they may be part of a mental health problem. Mental health problems can also influence how young people think and their ability to function in their everyday activities, whether at school, at work or in relationships.
If you think you know a young person whose mental health is getting in the way of their daily life, it is important to let them know you are there to support them.
Good mental health is about being able to work and study to your full potential, cope with day-to-day life stresses, be involved in your community and live life in a free and satisfying way.
A young person who has good mental health has good emotional and social wellbeing and the capacity to cope with change and challenges.
What affects a young person’s mental health?
There is no one “cause” for mental health concerns. Instead, it seems that a number of overlapping factors may increase the risk of a young person developing a mental health problem. These can include:
- Biological factors – family history of mental health problems
- Adverse early life experiences – abuse, neglect, death or a significant loss or trauma
- Individual psychological factors – self-esteem, coping skills or thinking style
- Current circumstances – stress from work or school, money problems or difficult personal relationships, or problems within your family
- Serious illness or physical injury
- Drugs and alcohol – use and experimentation.
Learn from mistakes – whether by you or by the young person – to learn and keep moving forward.
Having some conflict and then repairing the relationship is more important than avoiding doing anything because you fear upsetting the young person.
Some important things to remember about young people
Young people need a sense of belonging, connectedness to their family, friends and community, and to make a meaningful contribution
Firm and consistent boundaries are essential, but try to involve the young person in negotiating acceptable ‘rules’
A balance between self-responsibility and support helps a ‘child’ grow to an ‘adult’
Young people need to do things differently from their parents and become individuals in their own right
Teenagers and young adults often question everything their family say and do
Try to stay confident in yourself, but also be open to learning
Most parents can tell when something is out of the ordinary, but there are also signs that suggest a young person might be experiencing a mental health problem. These are new, noticeable and persistent changes in the young person, lasting at least a few weeks, including:
How to help the young person you are worried about
Keep communication open, show empathy and don’t rush into judgments
Talk openly and honestly with them, and let them know that you are concerned
Be available without being intrusive or ‘pushy’
Reassure them that you will be there for them, and ask what they need from you
Ask direct questions if you are concerned about suicide. For example: ‘Have you been thinking about death?’ ‘Have you thought about ending your life?’
Let them know that there is lots of help available
Help find an appropriate service, such as a headspace centre (headspace.org.au) and support them in attending
Take the person’s feelings seriously
Spend time with the person. Take an interest in their activities and encourage them to talk about what’s happening in their life
Encourage and support positive friendships
Encourage activities that promote mental health, such as exercise, healthy eating, regular sleep, and doing things the person enjoys
Give positive feedback
Let the person know that you love them. They may not always admit it, but this is likely to be very important to them.
Look after yourself as well. Get some support by talking to someone you trust, and seek professional help for yourself if you need it.
Thanks to headspace – National Youth Mental Health Foundation for the above information. The above information is not intended to be and should not be relied on as a substitute for specific medical or health advice. While every effort is taken to ensure the information is accurate, headspace makes no representations and gives no warranties that this information is correct, current, complete, reliable or suitable for any purpose. We disclaim all responsibility and liability for any direct or indirect loss, damage, cost or expense whatsoever in the use of or reliance upon this information.