MIND-HEALING: When mood is something more?
Adolescents are famed for their moodiness, although most of the time they soon recover without any outside help.
Sometimes, however, the negative changes represent something more serious, and professional help may be required. How can you tell the difference between a passing low mood and a psychological disorder? And if you suspect the latter, what can you do to help?
Sadly, there are no absolute sets of parameters that define psychological disorders. Instead, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders provides lists of symptoms for each condition, and then specifies how many of those symptoms are necessary to warrant a diagnosis. It can be extremely challenging to get it right, even for experienced professionals.
Parents, however, have an incredible advantage when it comes to making their assessment, because they can evaluate changes over time – and not just in exam season – something a professional cannot do as easily.
The first thing to look out for is a relative decline in mood and/or behaviour.
There’s no absolute scale of what constitutes “normal” when it comes to making a psychological diagnosis. Instead, the key is whether any decline in functioning – social, academic or emotional – is noticeable relative to that individual’s previous behaviour and mood state.
Also look for a steady decline in mood and/or behaviour. Most bad moods, social distress or academic crises vary in intensity and are fairly short-lived – a few days at most.
However, if the decline continues steadily for two weeks or more, then there’s cause for concern.
Specifics to look out for include social withdrawal, particularly from family and close friends, a loss of interest in everything, but particularly in activities that were previously enjoyed, fatigue and lethargy, a decrease in eye contact, and noticeable changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
If you think something more serious is going on, the most important step is to establish your teenager’s trust. Find an appropriate time to tell them how concerned you are. Add that you’re willing to do all you can to make it possible for them to get help. If they refuse, tell them that you must then seek guidance – but always show respect by informing them of your intention.
If they open up to you, listen with full attention. Try not to accuse or judge, and offer suggestions only if asked. Offer to take them to see their GP – always the best starting point – but make it clear you’ll not attend the appointment with them unless they wish, nor will you ask what happens. This shows you have confidence in them, and that in itself will go a long way towards restoring their self-belief.
Finally, make sure you offer sincere and lavish praise for any positive behaviours. This reminds them that they have choices about how to respond to what’s happening to them.
Linda Blair is a clinical psychologist. Her book is The Key to Calm (Hodder & Stoughton), ??12.99
The Daily Telegraph
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