The teen years are tricky. They’re going through hormonal changes, dealing with peer pressure, and facing challenges you probably don’t even know about. And because we as parents remember our teen years, it’s sometimes easy to overlook a child who may be dealing with something more serious.

Mental illness can come in many different forms, but early intervention is imperative to making sure your teen gets the help that he or she needs.

Symptoms of mental illness

Symptoms of mental illness are typically the same for people of all ages. However, teenagers are diagnosed a little differently than adults. This is primarily because teens are already experiencing mood swings due to hormones and normal adolescent emotions. So an adult who experiences depressed moods and a lack of interest in hobbies might be more easily diagnosed with depression.

But a teen who displays these same behaviors often needs to meet several other criteria as well. These criteria include changes in sleep patterns, low energy levels, difficulty concentrating, appetite changes, sudden guilt, lack of motivation, and suicidal thoughts. If a teen displays five out of these seven criteria, they may be diagnosed with some form of mental illness that requires treatment.

Additionally, if your teen experienced a traumatic event such as rape, it’s important to look for indications of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Some symptoms of ptsd in teenagers are nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance, and physical reactions.

Getting help for your teen

In addition to the initial diagnosis of a mental health issue, there are various other factors a therapist might look for. In other words, if your family physician diagnoses your teen with a mental illness, a mental health professional will likely follow up to specify the illness.

This is because every mental illness is different and requires different treatment methods. For example, PTSD may be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBD), while bipolar disorder will likely require medication. Even so, keep in mind that treatment methods also vary between individuals.

The danger of untreated mental illness

Left untreated, mental illness can lead to much bigger problems than your teen just not feeling well. Many people try to treat these issues by self-medicating; this could include drinking, drugs, sex, eating, or any number of unhealthy behaviors. And these behaviors only serve to magnify their problems and often get them into circumstances they can’t get out of.

Unfortunately, mental illness is not something that goes away on its own. In fact, most conditions get progressively worse very quickly. And conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder can lead to suicidal thoughts and potential attempts. In fact, almost all suicides are “directly attributed to untreated mental illness.”

How to talk to your teen about depression

Talking to your teen about depression is never easy. You may be afraid to hear the truth, but it’s important that you do in order to get them help. Many teenagers avoid serious conversations with their parents, and they start to retreat if you ask too many questions. For this reason, it helps to start with explanations of mental illness, rather than probing. And then you can ease into questions about how they are feeling.

Even if your child is reluctant to talk to you, you might still get a good idea of their emotional status by how they react. You can also ask if they’re comfortable talking to someone else. The important thing is to get as much out in the open as you can and let them know you care.