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5 Signs Your Teen May Be Asking for Help

Michaela is a high school sophomore. She’s a straight A student, excels as point guard on the girls’ basketball team, plays second chair clarinet in the marching band and is popular with teachers and other students alike. Suddenly, Michaela starts showing up late for class. She stops turning in her homework on time, misses several basketball practices and drops out of marching band. You’re her teacher, and you’ve noticed Michaela’s behavior changes. What do you do?

It would be easy to chalk Michaela’s changing behaviors up to average teen antics. But these drastic shifts can also be signs of a developing mental health or substance use challenge.

When it comes to mental health, teens may not always know how to identify their problems and ask an adult for help directly. And even if they do recognize that they are facing a mental health challenge, they may not feel comfortable initiating a conversation about it with an adult. That’s why it’s important for adults who regularly interact with young people – whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach or caregiver – to know how to spot the signs that a teen in your life may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge, and how to provide the appropriate support.

Here are 5 ways a teen might be asking for help with a mental health challenge:

  1. They stop showing interest in activities they once enjoyed, and they don’t replace their interests with new hobbies. Changing interests are a normal part of teen behavior, but you may want to check in with a teen who loses interest in their favorite activities without pursuing other interests.
  2. Their grades are slipping, particularly in classes they enjoy. While many things can affect a teen’s academic performance, a sudden change in behavior can be a warning sign for depression.
  3. They avoid discussing future events, such as further education or other opportunities. This could be a sign of depression and may signal suicidal ideation. Check in with a teen displaying this behavior and reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) if you are worried that the person may be considering suicide.
  4. They withdraw from friends, family and social activity. Withdrawing somewhat from family members to spend more time with friends can be considered average teenage behavior, but if a teen is withdrawing from all social situations, it could be a warning sign for a mental health issue like depression or anxiety.
  5. They avoid eating meals, especially in a social setting. A sudden increase or decrease in appetite could be a sign of a mental health issue like depression. But complete avoidance of eating meals, especially around other people, may signal a developing eating disorder.

It can be hard for anyone to reach out and ask for help when they need it, and in the vulnerable teen years, it can be even more difficult. It’s critical that any adult who regularly interacts with young people has the skills to recognize these – and other – warning signs, and to start a conversation that can help someone get on the path to recovery. Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches these skills.

When more adults are trained in how to help, more young people can get the support they need, when they need it most. Get trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid so you can learn more and #BeTheDifference in a young person’s life.