Recognizing depression and anxiety in children and adolescents: Is it more than teenage angst?
HOT SPRINGS, S. D. – The adolescent years can be difficult for any parent. A child might seem more withdrawn or may develop moodiness. How do you know what is considered typical teenage behavior and what may be signs of something more serious such as depression or anxiety in your teenage child?
Dr. Dominick Trombetta from Fall River Health Services gives parents some insights about what children and young adults may be facing for mental health issues. Originally from Pennsylvania, Dr. Trombetta joined Fall River Health Services in July 2021.
As a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry, Trombetta says, “Basically, I look for teacher and parental concerns. I try to gather as much information as possible and try to find out what’s happening in that kid’s life to determine if they need community services, medications, therapy or a mix of the above.”
In the last few years, Dr. Trombetta says he sees the disruption from a normal routine as one of the consequences from the pandemic that has affected children and adolescents.
“What was already something that was slowly being more recognized as far as a mood and anxiety epidemic in youth has become much larger. We continue to see a lot of teenage depression and anxiety heading into the adult years. Even younger kids have been affected.”
As adults, we easily recognize how COVID has impacted our routines both personally and professionally. Trombetta believes that children and young adults have been impacted just as greatly.
“I think that a lot of people assumed that the digital age kids would be fine with a completely virtual school platform, and that ended up not being the case for the vast majority of them.”
Trombetta wants to remind parents that school provides so much more than just an educational component. The social aspect is also crucial to the mental well-being of kids.
Trombetta continues, “I think parents who assumed their kids only talked on the phone or computer were surprised by how affected they were by not having that immediate social environment around them. It’s a mix between things that were there and that were made worse by things in the last few years. Some kids that didn’t seem to have any issues before this, [COVID] may have brought out some of those underlying traits or issues into the forefront.
It is crucial for adults to recognize some potential warning signs that a child or adolescent may be experiencing mental health issues.
Trombetta explains, “Some warning signs, I would think of that maybe your son or daughter does not seem like themselves. They’ve been a little more withdrawn to their room or wanting to be alone a little more, and not just in a typical teenage need space way, just kind of out of the norm. And they don’t want to be around family much. They aren’t seeing their friends, they’re talking a little less, if you notice changes in their sleep patterns at night, how much they are eating, if they seem like they’re losing weight, taking care of themselves a little less, and then that would go up all the way to any concerns about and they might be harming themselves by cutting or thinking about suicide.”
Dr. Trombetta agrees that there may still be some stigma attached to mental health treatment.
However, he says, “A lot of the kids I do see around here seem more at ease once it’s explained to them. And for parents, I see a mix of those that are more ready and open to it, as opposed to some who have kind of preconceived notions from the past of what things might be like. So, I try and explain it to them the best I can and to explain that there is a biological basis and certainly a genetic component to mental illness.”
With the weather getting nicer and school winding down, what can parents do to help promote well-being over the summer?
Trombetta says, “For most of my kids, I would say that structure and routine is still a pretty big part of things. And that if they are taking any medications for their mental health, including for ADHD, by and large, I recommend that they keep taking it over the summer because inattention and impulse control don’t just affect schooling, but also things like driving and other dangerous things that you wouldn’t want someone who is distracted to be doing.”
Trombetta realizes that routines may be more difficult to keep up with in the summertime. But he stresses that regular sleep routines are critical to one’s mental health. He also advises against an unstructured summer. One way to keep children engaged in healthy activities is with employment or volunteer opportunities. Exercise and nutrition are also important.
Trombetta points out, “Certainly, this summer is a prime time for people to get out and even go for a little bit of a walk at night. Something like that, just to keep mentally and physically stimulated.”
For children or adolescents who are feeling more down or anxious, Trombetta assures that it is not an automatic sign of mental illness. However, if the symptoms persist, Trombetta urges you to get your child checked out. This can be as simple as a phone call to your primary physician.
Trombetta wants parents to understand that it is not just something that is an intrinsic part of our kid’s behavior. “Children don’t purposely behave poorly without a reason, but that there are greater ties to all of this. This is something that should be fought as a disease like anything else.”
For more information on Fall River Health Services, visit their website at https://www.frhssd.org or call (605) 745-8910.