Teenage angst and mood swings are par for the course in adolescence but how do you know when it’s something more serious? Here’s how to spot the difference.

It’s tough being a teenager. Navigating the path to becoming an independent adult is fraught with massive emotional and physical changes. This coupled with the frustration of not quite being a ‘grown up’ just yet can make this time a challenge.

With that in mind you might expect your teenager to be a bit moody from time to time. That’s just what teenagers do, right?

However, what should you do if you suspect there’s something more at play than the usual teenage angst? And how can you tell the difference?

One in five children and adolescents are affected by mental health problems and disorders with those aged 18 – 24 having the highest prevalence of mental disorders of any age group. With that in mind here are some things to watch out for.

What should I look out for?

Depression is more than occasional moodiness or sadness; it’s a serious condition that may make your teen feel irritable, sad and stressed most of the time.

beyondblue suggests that a change in behaviour could be an indicator that things are not right:

  • not going out anymore
  • not getting things done at work/ school
  • withdrawing from close family and friends
  • relying on alcohol and sedatives
  • not doing usual enjoyable activities
  • unable to concentrate
  • tired all the time
  • complaining of headaches or muscle pain
  • significant weight loss or gain
  • loss or change of appetite

You might also notice that your teenager has started to talk about themselves differently. Statements like “I’m a failure”, “nothing good ever happens to me” or “people would be better off without me” could be a cause for concern.

I’m worried what should I do?

If you feel like your teenager is behaving in a way that might indicate that they are struggling with their mental health it’s best to act immediately and see your doctor. They can talk through what you’re seeing in your child, make an assessment and refer them for further treatment and support. You can also get immediate support from beyondblue’s support service on 1300 22 4636. Their trained mental health professionals can provide information and advice to help you seek further support.

It can also help to communicate with your teenager about how they are feeling. It is quite common for tension or conflict to develop when your teenager is feeling low and lines of communication may be broken.

How can I communicate with my teenager?

beyondblue outlines the following tips for creating a safe, communicative space for your child:

  • Be persistent. Continue to try and talk to your young person to find out what’s bothering them.
  • Reinforce the message that you care. Let your young person know that you’re concerned and are there to help.
  • Be understanding – even if you don’t agree or even quite comprehend where they’re coming from. This will help your young person feel validated.
  • Try to connect with your young person in the best way you can. This might mean involving other family members or friends who can help.
  • Change it up – if you feel you’re not getting anywhere, try a different approach. If you’re hard, try softer. If you’re soft, try be more firm.
  • Give your young person hope that there are solutions to their problems.