Have you ever noticed small behavioral differences between your child and other children? If so, you likely feel very concerned. And some parents may even struggle with feelings of guilt or embarrassment. But the truth is that learning disorders are quite common. And in many cases, there are simply speed bumps to learning -- not roadblocks. According to Science Daily, 10% of students will have some sort of learning disability. This equates to 2-3 children per typical classroom.
Because few schools are doing extensive testing for these disabilities, parents need to take matters into their own hands. If you feel your child may need a little extra help to reach their full potential, we want to encourage you to seek help from a licensed professional. If you are unsure which symptoms to look for, here are some signs that your child may need some help.
Inability to Focus
One of the primary characteristics associated with learning disorders is the inability to pay attention. For elementary age kids, school is long enough. When a child has a learning disability, getting through the day is even more tricky. Because these student’s brains have a harder time processing information, focusing for lengthy periods of time can seem impossible. The lack of focus that is associated with learning disabilities is often due to ADHD. Sources say that between 30 and 50 percent of children with a learning disorder will also have ADHD. Regardless of the disability, inattentiveness and inability to focus will almost always be symptoms.
Lack of Organizational Skills
Children who are unable to organize their thoughts may also be suspected of having a learning disorder. An inability to sequence events can be signs of Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, or Dyscalculia. The diagnosis of the disability will depend on whether the child has difficulties organizing words, thoughts, or numbers respectively. Remember, even if you think your child may be experiencing these symptoms, only a professional will be able to present an accurate diagnosis.
A learning disorder can also manifest itself in a more physical way. For example, a child who has just a much difficulty organizing their belonging as they do their thoughts may be showing symptoms of a deeper issue. If you have an elementary aged child who has difficulties keeping track of their belongings, it may be time to seek help.
Difficulties Performing School Work
One of the most noticeable symptoms of learning disabilities is the inability to complete school work with accuracy. Although this symptom may seem like an obvious indicator for providing a diagnosis, it is often overlooked, or worse. Sometimes students who try their best are labeled as bad children who can’t perform up to society's standards. If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing a disability of this nature, we encourage you to see a doctor who can perform a series of tests to determine your child’s potential.
Difficulties Accepting Change
Another possible indication of a learning disorder is any inability to accept changes. For example, moving to a higher or lower grade has the possibility of messing up a child’s positive relationship with school. To alleviate this possibility, some schools have taken to placing learning disabled children in one classroom. This way they will be able to establish a continued routine, receive special help, and get the most out of their education.
Throughout their time in school, children are constantly experiencing many changes. A child who has a disability may be inclined to be anti social, or even act out to deal with some of these changes. If a child has Dyspraxia, they will be very sensitive to both light and touch. Any sort of big change could potentially set the child off and create an unsafe environment.
While each child matures at a different rate, prolonged immaturity can be a sign of an underlying disorder.If your child has difficulties relating to other kids, and behaving in class, you may want to have them tested for something deeper. What others may perceive as an attitude problem may in fact be an actual disorder. Because children with learning challenges process information differently, they may sometimes act in ways that seem abnormal to their teachers and peers. As your child grows, keep a close eye on their development. If they appear to be falling behind, it is time to reach out to a medical professional.
In some instances, learning disabled children have a much more difficult time reading situations. Because of this inability to distinguish tone, these children are much more apt to behave inappropriately for the current situation. For example, you child may be much more likely to shout out answers in class without raising their hand. Some children may even be inclined to make rude comments at teachers and other students. If a teacher expresses their concern for your child’s behavior, professional testing should be completed as soon as possible.
If you are interested in hearing more about different learning disabilities, Dr. Syras Derksen has professionals who are ready to talk.
As a parent, you play a key role in your child’s ability to succeed in school. By promoting and celebrating academic achievement, you are helping your child form positive attitudes that will go a long way to help their future. We recognize that while most parents want to help their children do well in school, some feel unsure as to how they can help. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your child is getting the most out of their education.
Get To Know Your Child’s Teachers
Just before school starts, your child's school will host an open house. Attending this event will help both you and your child get to know their future teachers. Knowing your child’s educators is crucial to their success. Building a parent teacher relationship will facilitate your ability to ask questions in the future. At this first meeting, you will be able to discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses. By making the teacher aware, they will be able to pay specific attention to your child's needs. The teacher will be able to monitor progress as it relates to your concerns, and share the information at parent teacher conferences. Having a good relationship with your child’s teachers will also make scheduling meetings easier. If you feel the need to discuss your child's performance, you will already have a direct line of contact.
By attending open houses and and parent teacher conferences, you will also be better equipped to stay informed on upcoming events. Often, at these events, flyers will be handed out to discuss PTA meetings, and general scholastic resources. Opening the line of discourse between parent and teacher will ensure that you stay in the know.
On a similar note, make sure to be involved throughout the year as well. Students who have parents involved in their school are less likely to exhibit behavioral and academic problems in the classroom. Perhaps your child’s teacher would like some help in the classroom. This is an amazing opportunity for you. Not only do you get to learn teaching tactics directly from the source, you also get a front row seat to watching your child interact with the classroom and the information presented. If your child is experiencing any challenges, you will get a front row seat. You can then use that information to ask the teacher how to help your child perform.
Foster a Positive Learning Environment
Another way to get your child excited for success in school, is to create a positive school centric home life. By letting your child know that homework comes before play, you are preparing them for success in both school and beyond. Make sure that your home has a nice, comfortable, well lit environment so that your child can easily do their homework. Also, take the time to do homework with your child. Allow them to ask you questions, and give them serious answers. By taking your child’s homework expectations seriously, they will learn to do the same.
Take Attendance Seriously
In addition to taking homework seriously, you, as a parent should take attendance seriously as well. If your child isn’t at school, They will have a much more difficult time learning the material and keeping up with the rest of the class. Helping your child get up on time and providing them with a balanced breakfast will give them the energy to focus throughout the day. When your child is able to focus on the material presented, they are much more likely to understand the day’s content, and by extension, earn higher letter grades.
Teach Study Skills
If you teach your child good study skills, they will thank you later. A student can study for hours on end, but if they aren't studying correctly, there is no hope of succeeding. As a parent who has been through the school system teach your child some tricks that helped your conquer your classes. This will enhance your child's ability to excel, and act as a bonding experience between the two of you. If you are unsure where to start, ask your child’s teacher for some study tips that might be beneficial.
By asking your child questions about their day at school, you are demonstrating that school is important. In essence, you are saying that school is a topic worth discussing. This will help in one of two ways: 1. You will be able to further encourage behaviors that lead to success, or 2. You will be able to see where your child is struggling, and figure out the best way to help them get back on track. Regardless, asking questions shows your child that you are interested in their day and want to watch them do well.
As a parent, the more involved you are with your child's schooling, the more control you will have over their continued academic success. If you have more questions on positive involvement in your child’s education contact Dr.Syras Derksen, today.
Anxiety: A state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a real or imagined impending threat.
At some point in their life, most everyone experiences some form of anxiety. For some unlucky individuals, panic attacks are a common occurrence. When an attack arises, everything stops, and irrational feelings are heightened. Because there is no cure for anxiety, we must focus on treatment. If you can challenge your anxious feelings head on, you will be much more likely to lessen the impact of a full blown panic attack. In this article, we will be discussing several methods to take control of your emotions and make your anxiety more bearable.
Understand What is Happening
The first step to controlling your anxiety is understanding why your mind and body are acting in a particular way. Symptoms of a panic attack can present themselves in many forms, some of which include: nausea, inability to calm down, dizziness, and a racing heart. Your situation will vary. One thing these symptoms all have in common is that they are a response to stress.
You see, when the body is stressed, it releases a particular set of hormones. These hormones then travel to all parts of the body and trigger a specific response. For example, when these hormones reach your brain, you are likely to have negative psychological implications. By keeping yourself informed, you will gain the ability to rationalize your symptoms. Instead of thinking, “ah, I’m so anxious, why does my stomach hurt, will this ever end” You will be able to realize the source of your pain is a simple stress hormone. This rational realization provides a light at the end of the tunnel.
As you calmly sit and read this article, distracting yourself from your anxiety seems like an obvious way to prevent a panic attack. The problem is that, in the heat of the moment, we lack the ability to think clearly. My advice to you is to prepare yourself for the future. At this calm rational moment in time, decide what you will do. Creating a plan of action will help you to remain calm. Some people have a designated friend that they call, while others focus on counting. Whatever you decide will be fine as long as it keeps you from focusing on your problematic stress.
Keep Stress in Check
Speaking of stress, remember the importance of taking time for yourself. (And yes, that is easier said than done, but it’s worth it.) If more stress is placed on your body, more stress hormones will be released. Because of this, persistent stress can cause panic attacks to be more severe than usual. In fact, long term stress is the number one cause of involuntary anxiety attacks across the planet Whether you prefer to drink some calming tea, or take a short nap, managing stress well help you in more ways than one. By taking some time to relax, you will become more efficient at managing your stress as well as your anxiety.
Remember That You are in Control
Repeat after me: “My anxiety does not own or define me.” If you are someone who has experienced severe anxiety attacks, you will have dark days. Constantly remind yourself that you have the power to control your life and situation. If you practice these technique, you will be able to significantly reduce the severity of your anxiety.
This is not an overnight fix -- but practice makes perfect, and in the end you will see results. Anxiety attacks seem like they have a great deal of power over you; they can even make you feel fear when none is present. Do not attempt to rationalize this fear. You have control over your psychological and emotional happiness.
Breathing is another tactic that seems obvious now, but will become much more difficult when you are in the midst of an anxiety attack. One of the trademark symptoms of an anxiety attack is a choking sensation that makes breathing quite difficult. One way of coping with this is to take some time each day to practice Mindfulness breathing exercises.
If you haven’t heard of it, mindfulness is a great way to release stress and take some time for yourself. It’s a matter of closing your eyes, breathing, and letting go of your emotional baggage. If you are a people person, try locating a meditation group in your area. If you prefer to be in solitude, downloading an app is a great alternative that can allow you to complete the exercises on your own
Anxiety is a difficult disorder to endure, because the symptoms are so varied, it can sometimes be hard to diagnose. If you want to learn more about anxiety, its symptoms, and possible treatments, visit Dr. Syras Derksen online in order to continue reading and/or to book an appointment with one of our expert therapists.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder affecting approximately 3.4% of adults. Symptoms vary, but amongst the most common are distractedness and impulsivity as well as hyperactivity.
The number of children being diagnosed with ADHD in the US has been increasing in recent years. ADHD however, may also be diagnosed in adulthood, with many adults realising that the lifelong difficulties they have faced may be due to something more underlying.
Given the lower prevalence of ADHD worldwide, it is remarkable that approximately 25% of those treated for alcohol and substance abuse problems also have co-occurring ADHD. The link between ADHD and substance abuse is well-documented but the reasons behind it are less understood.
WHY IS THERE A LINK?
This is a complex question as it is unclear whether the qualities of ADHD lead to addiction, or whether the way ADHD is treated (medication etc.) may lead to substance abuse.
There is little evidence for the latter. Treating ADHD with medications like Adderall does not increase the abuse of other substances, but reduces risk. Engaging with medication and treatment programmes has been found to reduce the likelihood of becoming involved in criminal behaviour. Another study which followed children with ADHD into adulthood found that stimulant medications did not increase the risk of drug and/or alcohol abuse into adulthood.
The evidence therefore, seems to indicate that the actual traits associated with ADHD – like hyperactivity, impulsivity etc. may make individuals vulnerable to substance use.
An interesting study conducted by Harvard Medical school, found that out of those with ADHD who were abusing substances, only 30% were doing it for enjoyment only. The other 70% used it to improve sleep, mood etc. This tells us that individuals with ADHD may be self-medicating to treat the problems they may be experiencing.
The restlessness and hyperactivity associated with ADHD makes concentrating on repetitive tasks difficult. Therefore, those with ADHD are prone to boredom, which substance use can help them to deal with. Without a diagnosis, those enrolled in programmes of study may turn to substances to help them cope with study stress or an inability to concentrate during lectures.
ADHD, particularly when left undiagnosed and untreated, can be a stressful disorder to live with. Tasks that may take a person without difficulties two hours may take an individual with ADHD four. This can make schoolwork or the working environment extremely stressful, with self-esteem often suffering as a result.
Those with ADHD tend to be less successful academically, and this in time can lead to difficulties holding down jobs and earning money. Again, this leads individuals vulnerable to substance abuse.
Treating Co-occurring Disorders
ADHD, when undiagnosed, also makes substance abuse harder to treat. The difficulties associated with it make engaging in regimented treatment programs more difficult. Individual talk-therapy, often requiring long, concentrated sessions, can be difficult to focus on and the impulsivity associated with the disorder may make relapse more likely.
What Can Be Done to Help?
It is extremely important for those with ADHD to be diagnosed. An experienced professional will have a range of clinical interviews and measures at their disposal in order to accurately assess whether ADHD is present.
This often requires the professional to take case history and they may also call on a parent or sibling to ascertain how long symptoms have been present and the effects they have had at various stages of the individual’s life.
Often, when those with ADHD and addiction issues present for treatment, it is primarily due to the addiction problems. The realisation that ADHD is also present can be a remarkable moment for the addict, as the complicated tapestry of difficulties and addiction problems they have faced can begin to make sense.
Once diagnosis has been made, treatment can be tailored to take the comorbid ADHD into account. This is far more effective than treating the addiction only.
Simple changes and learning how to better organise time and money can all make a massive difference to adults with ADHD. With time coping strategies can be developed to help minimize distractions and improve attention spans.
In terms of prevention for those already diagnosed with ADHD, exercise has been found to be an effective habit for those with ADHD to adapt. Regular exercise provides structure and stimulates the brain, making it less likely that those with ADHD will turn to substance abuse.
The strong relationship now evident in the scientific literature means that it can be stated with some certainty that ADHD places individuals at risk of abusing substances. It may be helpful for parents of children with ADHD to speak to them about the risks they may encounter in the future, and the added complications they may face when experimenting with substances.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Registered Psycholog and Winnipeg Therapist
Conners, C. K., Erhardt, D., Epstein, J. N., Parker, J. D. A., Sitarenios, G., & Sparrow, E. (1999). Self-ratings of ADHD symptoms in adults I: Factor structure and normative data. Journal of Attention Disorders, 3(3), 141-151.
Lee, S. S., Humphreys, K. L., Flory, K., Liu, R., & Glass, K. (2011). Prospective association of childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance use and abuse/dependence: a meta-analytic review. Clinical psychology review, 31(3), 328-341.
Mannuzza S, Klein RG, Truong NL, Moulton JL 3rd, Roizen ER, Howell KH, Castellanos FX. Age of methylphenidate treatment initiation in children with ADHD and later substance abuse: Prospective follow-up into adulthood. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2008; 165: 604-609
Wilens, T. E., Biederman, J., Mick, E., Faraone, S. V., & Spencer, T. (1997). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with early onset substance use disorders. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 185(8), 475-482.
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A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association highlights some extremely alarming current trends. This 15 year study, which recorded emergency room visits from 66 hospitals around the country has found that the number of teenage girls admitted for nonfatal self-harm has risen since 2008. Curiously, before 2008 rates were stable, so it is important to examine why this rise is taking place. Although suicide rates are on the rise for both boys and girls in the US, the rise in self-harming behaviours is limited to girls.
Self-harming behaviours including cutting, poisoning and overdosing on drugs are strong indicators of suicidal intentions or co-occurring mental illness such as anxiety or depression. Amongst the self-harming behaviours recorded, ingesting pills or poison was the most common method.
Self-harming is more common than many people may be aware. Prevalence rates are estimated to lie around the 10% mark and is not limited to young people.
It is also worth noting that the data discussed as part of this study involves admissions to emergency rooms only. It does not include injuries that were treated in doctors’ offices or that were never treated at all. As a result, the worrying findings highlighted by this study may not even reflect the full scope of the problem.
Why is This Happening?
One theory which has been put forward by researchers is that teens are spending too much time on their smartphones. It has been found that teens who spend five hours a day or more on their smartphone are 71% more likely to be at risk of suicide than those who spend an hour or less.
Although smartphone use may not be the actual cause of self-harm, it may put already vulnerable teenagers at further risk as it leads to increased social isolation (spending time alone scrolling through social media) and detracting from healthier behaviours such as exercise.
A more sinister reason that smartphone use may have a role to play in the rise of self-harm amongst girls is the growing online culture where teenagers encourage each other to self-harm and share photos and videos of the practice.
Social media may be normalising a behaviour that is extremely dangerous. It would be remiss to attribute all the blame to social media platforms, but it is certainly likely to be a factor, and with numbers rising it may be pertinent for parents and educators to speak openly to teenagers about self-harming behaviour.
Signs of Self-Harming
It can be hard to tell if someone has been self-harming, but often family members or friends will have a sense that something is not right. If you are worried someone you know may be self-harming then look out for any of the following signs:
Why Do People Self-Harm?
Self-harm is an extremely complicated behaviour which may be rooted in a myriad of issues. Often the individual who is self-harming may be experience emotional issues for which they require an outlet. It would be impossible to list all the possibilities but the following are some of the more common causes:
Social Problems: This encapsulates all the interpersonal difficulties an individual may be having. This could be being bullied at school, difficulties with co-workers or coming to terms with their sexuality.
Psychological problems: There is a link between self-harming and borderline personality disorder. Sometimes, those who self-harm have heard voices telling them to do so or have been disassociating (losing touch with their surroundings).
Trauma: Individuals who self-harm may often (but not always) have a history of trauma. This could be a bereavement, a history of physical or sexual abuse or any incidence which causes a high level of distress.
These issues, whether alone or combined, can lead to a build-up of negative emotions such as anger or self-hatred. The individual will often feel like they cannot speak openly of these feelings or turn for help, and so self-harm becomes an alternative method through which to express this.
What Can You Do if You Suspect That Your Child or Someone You Know is Self-Harming?
It is important not to respond in a negative manner to suspected self-harm. Don’t react in anger or disgust, or minimize the behaviour as “attention seeking”.
Ask what is going on in their life generally, and try to ascertain whether there is anything which may make him/her want to self-harm. Let them know that you are there to listen or to give any help that they may need right now.
Although it is difficult, it does not help to “confiscate” any tools that are being used to self-harm without prior agreement. The individual will find a way around this, ultimately eroding the trust you are trying to build.
It’s also important to express to them that this is a worry for you and something which needs a plan of action.
The first point of contact will often be your GP who can put you in touch with the relevant services. Schools may also have a child protection officer, or someone qualified who you may speak to.
Treatments include individual, group and family treatments and the family often have an important role to play in recovery.
The following resources may be helpful when a family member or friend is self-harming.
It is also important to remember to look after yourself when dealing with a loved one who is self-harming. This will ultimately be distressing for you too and make sure to speak to someone you trust or seek help when needed.
Mercado, M. C., Holland, K., Leemis, R. W., Stone, D. M., & Wang, J. (2017). Trends in Emergency Department Visits for Nonfatal Self-inflicted Injuries Among Youth Aged 10 to 24 Years in the United States, 2001-2015. Jama, 318(19), 1931-1933.
NHS Choices. (2015, June 04). Self-harm. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/self-harm/
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the world’s most common childhood disorders, with an estimated prevalence of 5.29%. It is also a highly misunderstood neurodevelopmental condition.
Whilst many associate it with hyperactivity and overmedication, particularly in young boys, ADHD encompasses a wide range of symptoms. ADHD is also being increasingly diagnosed in adults and girls.
ADHD is diagnosed three times more frequently in boys than girls. Not long ago, however, this figure was closer to 10 to 1. Although the margins are narrowing, by adulthood the level of diagnoses across the sexes is roughly the same - so to what can we attribute the lower rates identified in childhood?
One potential explanation is that the symptoms observed in girls and boys can be quite different. Boys tend to exhibit the more “obvious” signs of ADHD such as hyperactivity and conduct disorder, whereas the difficulties experienced by girls tend to be attentional such as daydreaming in class.
For this reason, ADHD in girls may not be as obvious in an educational setting and therefore fall under the radar.
The hyperactive symptoms more commonly displayed by boys are more likely to be problematic in the home or classroom, and may therefore more quickly draw the attention of teachers, special needs officers etc.
Girls on the other hand, tend to experience the difficulties of ADHD in a more internal manner. It has also been argued that as girls are socialised by society to behave in a more reserved manner that they are better than boys at covering up symptoms.
There is also limited public knowledge in terms of the different ways ADHD may express itself among the sexes.
So in what ways may ADHD look different in girls than boys?
An interesting paper by Rucklidge (2010) explored gender differences in ADHD. In a review of previous studies, she found a number of differences in a variety of areas.
This is potentially the most widely recognised symptom of ADHD and is the main symptom that boys tend to exhibit more than their female counterparts. Children with ADHD may find it difficult to sit still and may also exhibit impulsivity for example non- stop talking, making inappropriate comments and being impatient.
Although many children may be high-energy, in order to meet the clinical criteria for these facet of ADHD the hyperactivity and impulsivity demonstrated must be impacting the child’s life and have been doing so for six months or more.
Inattentive ADHD is that which leads to trouble focusing and being easily distracted. Children with ADHD are daydreamers who get bored easily. Whilst this could easily be said of many children, in the case of those with inattentive ADHD this leads to trouble completing schoolwork and avoiding tasks requiring focus. Children with ADHD may also be highly disorganised with messy rooms.
Again, whilst many of these are common childhood traits, those with ADHD will suffer both at home and at school due to the severity of these symptoms.
Girls display attentional ADHD more so than boys.
Tactile Defensiveness (TD) refers to both behaviours and emotional responses which are out of proportion to tactile (relating to sense of touch) stimuli. Children with TD may be overwhelmed by sensory overload and in extreme cases may find everyday activities such as having hair brushed or eating cold food intolerable.
TD is commonly associated with ADHD and is exhibited more frequently by females.
Social and Psychological Functioning:
Studies have also found some marked differences in these areas between girls and boys. Boys have been found to be more aggressive, particularly with peers. Interestingly, it has been found that girls suffer from lower self-esteem and demonstrate poorer coping strategies than boys.
This could be due to the more internalised nature of female ADHD but could also be the result of later diagnosis.
Effects of late diagnosis
Early identification and intervention are obviously important in terms of determining future outcomes. Children who receive support at home and at school are much more likely to manage their condition into the future.
Unfortunately, at present ADHD tends to be diagnosed later in girls than in boys. Until recently, the American Psychiatric Association diagnosis manual specified 7 as the cut- off age for symptoms to be evident. Although this has recently been increased to 12, it is quite possible that the narrow age- range previously provided prevented some diagnoses from being made.
Some studies estimate that as many as 50- 75 percent of girls with ADHD are not diagnosed.
Studies have found that both men and women diagnosed as adults struggle in a wide array of domains and have lower self- esteem, poorer coping strategies and higher levels of depression. In addition adults identified with ADHD later in life tend to have negative attributions about themselves.
The lack of a diagnosis may lead individuals to having their difficulties attributed to laziness or lack of ability both by themselves and others.
As of yet however, no study has compared those diagnosed during adulthood with those diagnosed during childhood.
So what should you look out for in order to spot the signs of ADHD in girls?
The following signs may indicate that ADHD is going unnoticed:
If this sounds familiar it may be worth speaking to a GP or therapist in order to further investigate the basis of these problems. Given the lack of awareness regarding girls with ADHD, and the detrimental impact of later diagnosis, it is important not to let girls with ADHD continue to fall under the radar.
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Hamed, A. M., Kauer, A. J., & Stevens, H. E. (2015). Why the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder matters. Frontiers in psychiatry , 6 .
Rucklidge, J. J. (2010). Gender differences in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America , 33 (2), 357-373.
“I hated high school. I don’t trust anybody who looks back on the years from 14 to 18 with any enjoyment. If you liked being a teenager, there’s something wrong with you.” ― Stephen King
The teenage years are tumultuous to say the least. It can be easy to forget how miserable and self- doubting the teenage self can be, as a wave of drastic change and hormones sweeps over your developing mind and body. With this uncertainty comes a predictable amount of moodiness, fluctuations in confidence, and conflict with parents.
Sometimes however, these common teenage symptoms go beyond what is normal for this life stage. When depression manifests itself in teenagers it can often be attributed to hormones etc. when it is in fact a real and pervasive psychological problem. Conversely, some parents may mistake their teens natural growing-up stage for depression when it is completely harmless.
An Underestimated Problem
The important thing to note is that undetected depression in the early years can have lifelong consequences. The average age of depression onset in lifelong sufferers is 14 years old, so those that experience lifelong depressive episodes will most likely start as teens.
The Association for Young People’s Health report that the number of young people aged 15- 16 with depression has almost doubled between the 1980s and now. They also estimate that 1 in 10 young people suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. These are statistics that are replicable in most developed countries around the world.
Untreated depression in the early years can lead to eating disorders, academic difficulties, and substance abuse. There is no shame in seeking the help of mental health experts and, in fact, early positive experiences with these services can set your child up for a lifetime of positive mental health.
So how do you tell when your teenager is suffering from depression and needs a little help? Listed below are some common signs of teenage depression. Although many of these occur during the teenage years, the presence of most or all of them over the space of several weeks indicates your teen may have depression.
Please bear in mind that this list is not exhaustive, but merely a guide to identifying when your teen may have a problem. In order to be diagnosed the help of a trained mental health professional is required.
Signs to Look Out For
Mood: This is one of the hardest ones to disentangle, but if your child is consistently sad, cranky, and irritable then you may need to explore why this is so pervasive. This, combined with a belief that life is meaningless is a warning sign for depression.
Appetite: If your teen is eating a lot more or a lot less than usual and has experienced significant weight loss/ gain then this may be a depressive symptom. It is common for weight to fluctuate during adolescence but if this is combined with several of the other symptoms listed here then it may be a warning sign.
Loss of interest: Sometimes teens move away from things they used to enjoy as children. This is perfectly normal, but if your teen completely withdraws from things they truly love such as a particular sport, instrument or even friends then this is not to be ignored. A loss of interest in enjoyable pursuits is particularly worrying as the lack of activity and fun will only exacerbate any pre-existing depression.
Sleep: An excessive amount of sleep is not normal, nor are highly irregular sleeping patterns. Parents should look out for ongoing fatigue and/ or exhaustion.
Physical complaints: If your child regularly reports headaches, nausea and other without any seeming explanation or cause then this may be a sign of deeper issues.
School performance: A sudden worsening in school performance, frequent absences and seeming disinterest in school life may hint at depression.
Difficulty concentrating: Difficulty concentrating at home and at school should be taken note if. Your child may seem restless or agitated and be unable to relax.
Tearfulness: Teens who become easily tearful or cry frequently may be experiencing deeper unhappiness.
What to Do if You Think Your Child May Have Depression?
Again, this list should not be used to diagnose your child but should merely be used as a guide if you already have concerns. Most of these behaviours will be evident at some stage or another throughout the teenage years. If however, these behaviours are ongoing and pervasive then you should consider your options.
Parents of depressed teenagers should do their best to listen to their teenagers concerns. Try to schedule some time to really listen to how they are feeling. Do not judge or lecture as tempting as this can be. Statements such as “when I was a teen” or “you’ll grow out of it” are not helpful.
Structure and self- care are extremely important when it comes to alleviating depression. Encourage your child to get enough sleep and make sure they are getting the nutrients they need. Simple things like these can make a difference.
Whether as a teenager or an adult it is vital to talk through your depression. There are many mental health experts who are trained to work with depressed teens. Most schools have a counsellor or psychologist and there are a range of valuable community services.
Don’t feel as though “fixing” depression is your parenting duty. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, get in touch with these services and ensure that the correct support they need is obtained.
Sometimes the best example to set is that it is okay to ask for help!
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Machoian, L. (2006). The disappearing girl: Learning the language of teenage depression. Penguin.
Mental Health Foundation (2006). Truth hurts: report of the National Inquiry into self-harm among young people. London: Mental Health Foundation
Oster, G. D., & Montgomery, S. S. (1995). Helping your depressed teenager: A guide for parents and caregivers. John Wiley.
It is old news that dysfunctional or insecure relationships in childhood may lead to difficulties down the line. Whilst this has long been known, a recent study has shed further light on the reasons for this, and the specific effects poor attachments may have.
Attachments are the relationships we have with caregivers from an early age. In general, attachment styles may be divided into four categories: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. The type of attachment style we develop is directly linked to the quality of care we receive. For example, a neglectful parent may contribute to their child’s dismissive- avoidant attachment style (Cassidy, 1999).
Insecure attachment styles have been linked to range of adult mental health issues. These range from anxiety and depression to relationship issues and even health problems. Obviously attachment styles are an important research area, but why does the human brain react so negatively to poor parenting?
The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that insecure childhood attachments can negatively influence our ability to deal with stress as adults (Leyh, 2016). We are all aware that there is huge variability in how individuals deal with stress. This is evident in any office in the world! Some people remain calm and proactive in the face of adversity, whilst some crumble and become extremely negative.
One of the reasons for this, according to Dr. Rainer Leyh and his team, is that our negative childhood experiences and attachment styles stay with us throughout adulthood, and rear their heads when we are faced with a stressful or anxiety provoking scenario.
In this report on the study, Dr Christine Heinsich gives the example of a car approaching a traffic light. For the driver, when they are in a neutral state, following the signal is easy and may even come automatically. For an emotional driver however, following the signal is much more difficult. They may stop late or fail to stop altogether, driving straight through the light.
What moderates our ability to stay calm under emotional strain? For those of us that had emotionally attentive parents or caregivers it can be a lot easier. The key term is “emotional regulation”. Emotional Regulation is our ability to control our emotions, and our reactions and subsequent behaviours in response to them. Attachment styles have been directly linked to emotional regulation.
In the aforementioned study, adults were recruited who had a wide range of childhood parental/ caregiver experiences. Participants were asked to perform a task which involved identifying a target letter from a series of flashing letters. The task was conducted in different conditions, some which evoked a positive emotional response, some which evoked a negative response and others which evoked neutral. The participants’ brain activity was recorded using a type of brain scanning called “EEG”.
Subjects with insecure childhood attachments had significantly more trouble performing under the negative conditions than those with secure childhood attachments. Another interesting finding was that those with insecure attachments also exhibited lower brain activity under negative conditions when attempting to identify the target letter.
The poorer the task performance, the poorer the strategies for emotional regulation. One theory put forth by the researchers, is that the more effort you have to exert on inhibiting your emotion, the less resources you have to perform on the task. Therefore, negative childhood experiences may make all those day- to- day struggles we encounter just that little bit more difficult.
Were there any potential limitations to this study? It could be argued that as the target letters were unrelated to the emotional cures, it is difficult to generalise them to everyday life. Future studies will have to find a way to make the testing environment more realistic.
Despite this, it does see clear that poor relationships with our caregivers can have long- lasting consequences.
How do I know if I have difficulties with attachment and/ or emotional regulation?
It can be difficult to know whether any of this applies to you. You may have difficulties with emotional regulation if:
Implications for relationships
Those who are negatively attached may bring these issues and insecurities into relationships. Attachment style can have massive connotations, particularly for romantic relationships, and it is important to be aware of how it can affect you.
It is easy to see the connection between a turbulent relationship, and the findings of the study we have just discussed. Being resilient and calm when faced with stressful situations, arguments and all that comes with a relationship, is often central to its success. For those with poor emotional regulation, this can be difficult.
What can you do about insecure attachment?
New research is increasingly shedding light on how our past experiences can shape our present and future. It is fascinating what we area learning, but also important to stress that your past does not necessarily dictate your future, and we all have the ability to change long- learned behaviours.
By Dr. Syras Derksen,
Cassidy, J. (1999). Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Rough Guides.
Leyh, R., Heinisch, C., Kungl, M. T., & Spangler, G. (2016). Attachment representation moderates the influence of emotional context on information processing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 278.