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      Mental Health and Teens: Watch for Danger Signs
 
As children move through tumultuous transitions — physical, emotional, hormonal, social, intellectual — the pressures they encounter can seem overwhelming. For many 
teens, these and other pressures can lead to one or more of a variety of mental health disorders; all are matters of concern, and some are life-threatening. 

Key Tips for Parents:
  • Keep communication constant, open, and honest: Your children should not only know that they can talk to you about anything, you have to be committed to broaching topics of concern openly. Talk about your own experiences.  Let them know that they are not alone; nor are their anxieties unique.
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  • Understand that mental health disorders are treatable: Arm yourself with information,  speak with your child’s pediatrician and the school Student Assistance Counselor about what information is available.
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  • Be attentive to your teen’s behavior: Adolescence is, indeed, a time of transition and change, but severe, dramatic, or abrupt changes in behavior can be strong indicators of serious mental health issues.
Mental Health “Red Flags”:
  • Excessive sleeping, beyond usual teenage fatigue, which could indicate depression or substance​ abuse; difficulty in sleeping, insomnia, and other sleep disorders
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Abandonment or loss of interest in favorite pastimes
  • Unexpected and dramatic decline in academic performance
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite, which could indicate an eating disorder
  • Personality shifts and changes, such as aggressiveness and excess anger that are sharply out of character 
Key Mental Health Issues:

Depression  While all of us are subject to “the blues,” clinical depression is a serious medical condition requiring immediate treatment. Watch for:
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Unexpected weeping or excessive moodiness
  • Eating habits that result in noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Paranoia and excessive secrecy
  • Self-mutilation, or mention of hurting himself or herself
  • Obsessive body-image concerns
  • Excessive isolation
  • Abandonment of friends and social groups
Substance abuse  Mental health issues can lead adolescents not just to experiment with alcohol and drugs, but also to use substances for “self-medication.” And in addition to being aware of the behavioral and physical signs of alcohol and drug use — paraphernalia, hangovers, slurred speech, etc. — parents should also:
  • Be alert for prescription drug misuse: According to the AAP, prescription drug misuse by adolescents is second only to marijuana and alcohol misuse. The most commonly abused prescription drugs include Vicodin and Xanax.
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  • Know that over-the-counter-medications can be abused as well: Teenagers also frequently abuse OTC cough and cold medications.
Concern about your adolescent’s mental health should first be addressed with your child — fostering open communication goes a long way toward fostering sound adolescent mental health habits.

If your concerns are serious, discuss them with your pediatrician. She or he can offer both initial medical assessment and refer you to appropriate mental health organizations
for counseling and treatment if called for.


Source:  HealthyChildren.org by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018
Discussion Starters for Youth and Adults
 

These simple discussion starters encourage youth to think about who they are becoming and how they can be intentional in working toward a positive future.

Imagine yourself in ten years. What would you be doing? 

If you could do one thing better, what would it be? How would it make your life better if you could do that?

Who in your family have had dreams or aspirations that changed the course of their lives? 

Have you ever encountered a key decision—a fork in the road—that set you in a new direction in some area of life? What happened? How did you make that decision?

What have been major roadblocks that made it hard for you to become the best you could be? How have you coped with or overcome these obstacles.

If you could study just one thing for three months, what would you study? Why?

If  you could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would you want to do? What steps could you take to make that kind of difference?

Imagine that you’re hanging out with some friends ten years from now. Who do you hope will be there? What would you be talking about? 
 
Source: Search Institute:  July 2016
 
“We read to know we're not alone.”     William Nicholson
 
North Kingstown High School Student Assistance Counselor, AM Finlay, and  URI intern Madison Lavoie the Media Center have worked together on a unique prevention activity.

In conversations with the high school librarian, Pamela Rowland, the team identified books that help raise awareness about the struggles young people face and that resonate with teens.  Titles include “Glass”, “That Was Then, This is Now”, “The Homecoming”, “Ballads of Suburbia” and Lush”.

By donating new copies of the books and having a resource display during Children of Alcoholics week, the group hopes the topics spark conversation, in hopes it will help them make healthy choices in their lives.
 
What You Can Do To Improve Your Mental Health
 
A healthy mind is fundamental to a person’s overall well-being, regardless of age. Our mental state affects how we think, feel, and act. Mentally healthy people are better positioned to:
 
• Cope with the stresses of life
• Work productively at school or on the job
• Relate positively to others
• Make good decisions
• Make meaningful contributions to their communities 

 Things You Can Do for Your Mental Health
 
Value Yourself: Treat yourself with kindness and respect and avoid self-criticism. Make time for things you enjoy. 

Take Care of Your Body: Eat more nutritiously, drink more water, exercise,  & get plenty of sleep.

Surround Yourself with Positive People: Happiness is contagious.  Keep company with people who choose to laugh more than they complain and focus on the positives in life. 

Give of Yourself: Seek out volunteer opportunities or simply take advantage of the endless opportunities to help family, friends, and neighbors. It is uplifting to help others.

Learn How to Deal with Stress: Stress is a normal part of life and the sooner one learns how to cope with it in a positive way, the better. Common stress reducers include physical exercise, deep breathing exercises, visualization, journaling, playing with a pet, or taking a good old-fashioned walk.

Quiet Your Mind: Meditation, prayer, and mindfulness are known to help people feel calm and relaxed, and can improve one’s outlook on life. 

Set Realistic Goals: Decide what you want to achieve in school, work, or personal life and write it down. Then, plan out the steps needed to make those goals a reality. Aim high, but be realistic and don’t over schedule yourself.


Avoid Alcohol and Other Drugs: For youth, this is a given. Alcohol is illegal for those under 21 and a danger in many ways. For some adults, alcohol in moderation is okay. While some people turn to alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate mental health symptoms or even every day stress, self-medicating will only make the situation worse. 


Get Help When Needed: Seeking help is a sign of strength – not weakness. People who get appropriate care can and do recover from mental illness and addiction and lead happy, healthy, productive, and rewarding lives. 
 
 Sources: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - MentalHealth.gov: What is Mental Health? Aug. 29, 2017.    (shared by The University of Michigan – adapted from the National Mental Health Association/National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare):
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North Kingstown Prevention Coalition · 300 Centerville Road · Warwick, Ri 02886 · USA

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