Don’t Delay Care If You See These Mental Health Warning Signs in Adolescents

May 17, 2021

Family medicine providers like Dr. Anthony Patsy know the most dangerous symptom of any condition can be the one patients don’t disclose – whether out of embarrassment, fear, or because they think they can “deal with it.”

This is especially true when it comes to mental health.

A December 2020 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau noted a 31% increase year-over-year in people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression because of the ongoing pandemic.

What concerns medical professionals like Dr. Patsy, however, is how many additional people may be experiencing those symptoms but not sharing them with their family, friends, or doctor.

“We learn pretty early on to make a connection between the presence of blood and the severity of an injury, with greater amounts of blood usually meaning a more serious wound,” says Dr. Patsy, who practices out of Memorial Healthcare Family Medicine in Owosso. “We don’t have that type of visual barometer when it comes to mental health to indicate when we should seek professional help or when we should just try to ride it out.”

Dr. Patsy points to adolescents in particular as a group that has struggled throughout the pandemic. For an age group that typically relies more on its social circle of friends for comfort and support instead of family, school closures, cancelled sports and more have taken that social circle away – leading to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty.

“Pre-teens, teenagers and young adults are still developing mentally and learning how to process and manage complex emotions,” says Dr. Patsy. “Plenty of fully grown adults are struggling to process the emotional impact of the pandemic, so imagine how tough it is for kids and adolescents.”

Some of the mental health warning signs parents or loved ones should be on the lookout for in adolescents include:

  • Drastic changes in mood or prolonged periods of unusual moods like irritability, hopelessness, and rage.
  • A loss of interest in activities that previously brought joy.
  • Changes in appetite, such as never being hungry or eating all the time.
  • Issues with memory, concentration, or thinking clearly.
  • Extreme sleep patterns, including sleeping all the time or trouble falling/staying asleep.
  • Changes to social behaviors, like not wanting to FaceTime with friends.

Dr. Patsy urges parents to seek professional care for their children if they notice any of the above warning signs. He also warns that periods of high or prolonged stress can lead to increased rates of suicide in both adolescents and adults.

“Any talk of suicide should be taken seriously and serve as a warning sign to parents or loved ones that professional help is needed,” says Dr. Patsy. “If you yourself are having any thoughts about suicide or feeling as though your family or friends would be better off without you, do not delay. Seek professional help immediately.”

For anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  

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