A mother and teen daughter walk together and smile.

By ShaRonda Amon, Preventionist

I took my children for a wellness visit with their doctor.  She handed them a piece of paper and asked them to answer each question truthfully.  I glanced at the questionnaire and saw that there were questions about their mental health.

I was pleasantly surprised because I had never seen the questionnaire before.  It made me feel good that their doctor not only cared about their physical health but their mental health as well.  Both of my children answered the questions and I sneaked a peek at their answers.  I was relieved to know that they both are OK.  

I started to think about how often I talk to my children about their mental health.  It goes beyond the everyday questions of “how was school?” or “how are you?” As parents, we need to ask deeper and more relevant questions to truly gauge how our children are feeling and what they may be going through.  

FAB: A simple mental health check-in for your teen

A teenager’s mood often changes and that is to be expected. But how do you tell the difference between typical teenage moodiness and when it is something more serious?  

Ask yourself: Are they FAB?

Family and Friends

How are they around their family and friends?  Have they changed their peer groups?  Are they withdrawn or isolating themselves? Teens are social at this age.  They want to hang out with their friends and be around them more than be at home.   Teens who are experiencing depression or anxiety may isolate themselves in their room because they feel better when they are alone.

Academics

How are their grades?  Have their grades declined? (This is probably the first thing you will notice.) Are they not motivated to go to school? 

It is normal for your teen to miss a few assignments or pretend they are sick so they can stay home from school to play videos games. However, it is important to notice if they have stopped putting in the effort to do homework or to study. As a parent, this may look like laziness; however, they may have a harder time focusing because depression can take a toll on your energy levels. 

Body and Mind

Are they complaining about headaches and/or stomach aches more often? How are they sleeping? You may notice that your teen is having difficulties falling asleep or they may stay up late at night. Have there been any changes to their weight or appetite? Changes in their sleeping or eating pattern can signal that there is a mental health issue. Are you noticing that your teen is more defiant or sensitive to criticism? 

It is normal for teens to show some of these behaviors. However, when your teen starts showing them quickly and more consistently, then it may be time to talk to their physician. 

Next steps for parents  

If you notice many of these occurrences over several weeks, make an appointment with your child’s doctor.  During the appointment, your child’s physician will talk to you about your concerns. They will ask your teen questions to gather more information and refer you to a child’s psychiatrist or a therapist that will best support your child. The mental health professional will evaluate your teen and discuss with you treatment options which could include counseling and/or medication.

It is important to understand that mental illness is treatable. Your child may be experiencing a mental health challenge that can be treated in a few months to a year. However, if it goes unchecked and undiagnosed, the issue can become more damaging and can lead into adulthood.  

After this experience at the doctor’s office, I decided to do my own mental health check-in with my children. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will share how I have discussions with my children about their mental health. Learn more prevention education tips for parents in our Parentally Speaking blog.

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