Understanding adolescence

Young-Woman-with-Headphones_ThinkstockPhotos-464467186Looking back on our teenage years can bring back uncomfortable memories for many of us. It can be a time fraught with uncertainty as we struggle with physiological and psychological changes and the transition to independence.

As a parent, it can be difficult to know whether your teenager is experiencing the usual challenges of adolescence or whether some professional help might be needed.

Paediatrician Dr Roshni Sonawane says adolescence is a very complex period of life so it is important not to overlook issues when they arise.

“Young people are the future of our society and the ‘building blocks’ of our communities and yet their physical and mental health needs are often overlooked,” Dr Sonawane says.

“Although there are many difficulties associated with this period, it’s sometimes best not to pass things off as ‘just a teenage thing’.”

“Changes may be a red flag and just the tip of the iceberg of a number of more serious issues.”

When it comes to teenage behaviour, how do we know what’s normal and what’s not?

Things to look out for are:

  • Headaches
  • Social withdrawal
  • Avoidance behaviour, including nonattendance at school or retreating from activities that used to interest them
  • Sudden changes in behaviour or behaviour that is out of character
  • Sleeplessness
  • Saying they think they are depressed

Dr Sonawane stresses that every person is different and these issues, even if they seem minor, shouldn’t be dismissed.

“The way adolescents cope with things in their lives can be so intense because they are new experiences that they haven’t ever dealt with,” Dr Sonawane says.

“When you’re an adult, you have experience to draw on but for a teenager, the breakup of a relationship, parents splitting up or issues with friends can seem so enormous that they’re not able to cope with them alone.”

Teenagers can really benefit from their parents and other families being involved in their health. Getting to know your child will enable you to spot changes and get help before things get serious.

“An initial adolescent health screen by a medical practitioner (GP) who has experience in it will indicate the need for referral for further thorough assessment by an expert adolescent health practitioner,” Dr Sonawane says.

“This will help us understand the full picture of what’s going on and ascertain if the issues are clinical or psychological in origin.”

“We can then decide on a course of action to help your child get back on track.”

If you think your teenager needs help, getting him or her assessed by a GP initially who can organise relevant referral to a Paediatrician with experience in Adolescent Medicine, for further evaluation. If a mental health issue is identified, a referral to psychologist for further evaluation can be organised.

For children 16 and over, Murdoch’s Community Mental Health team of psychologists, social workers and support workers are available for low or no cost clinical and counselling interventions. You can also contact headspace, the national youth mental health foundation, where you can find your nearest centre.

For further information regarding mental health issues/counselling and advice talk to Stephanie Jones, Manager Social Outreach at St John of God Murdoch Community Mental Health on 6226 9400 or email counselling@sjog.org.au

 

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