Do Parents Misjudge Teens’ Happiness?

A survey conducted by Yahoo Parenting and Silver Hill, a non-profit hospital for the treatment of psychiatric and addictive disorders, found that there is disparity between parental perception of teen’s happiness and teen’s own reports. While 18% of the 3,100 teens surveyed had been formally diagnosed with a mood disorder (such as anxiety or depression) or ADHD only 9% of parents surveyed admitted that their teens took medication. And while about 80% said their teens were “somewhat happy” or “very happy,” a 2013 survey from the CDC found that 30% of teens had felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities and 17% had seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months before the survey.

So why the disconnect? Sometimes it can be hard for adults to tell the difference between normative “teen angst” (stress, hormones, developmental changes) and mental health issues. Plus, conditions such as depression may look different in teens than adults expect it to. For instance, teens suffering from depression may not appear obviously sad and may instead seem irritable and quick-tempered. They may to be able to perk up during exciting social situations, despite suffering from a chronic underlying condition. This “atypical” presentation of major depressive disorder is actually the most common presentation of the disorder in teens. (Parents, teachers, and adults who’d like to learn more about teen depression and how to distinguish it from regular teen ups and downs, may want to schedule a Wellcore Parent Night presentation of “Is It More Than ‘Teen Angst’?”)

But the atypical presentation is not the only problem. As a society, we still have a hard time talking about depression and anxiety and many people have very negative associations with mental health issues, viewing them as character flaws or something that makes a person dangerous. It’s not surprising then that parents might not want to ascribe these conditions to their children and might have a hard time discussing mental health. However, it’s important that we do. Research shows that if left untreated, mental health problems can become worse over time, affecting a teen’s school performance, social and emotional life. And, most crucially, for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4600 lives lost each year. (Source: CDC.)

Please note: If you are concerned about suicidal behavior, it’s a medical emergency and you should go to the ER. Get more info from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK (8255).

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