The 3 Most Common Mental Health Issues Affecting Middle Schoolers
Middle school is a time of transition for children, where they get to experience a new and exciting level of independence. At Da Vinci Collaborative, we recognize that it is also a time when children often face issues with self esteem, academic challenges, and social pressures. With all of the changes and challenges, it is often difficult to know if your child is experiencing a mental health issue. Being aware of the most common mental health issues of middle schoolers can help parents be informed and prepared. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish in today’s article: offering some tips and insight on common issues affecting middle schoolers, how to recognize them, and how to help your child overcome these issues.
The three most common mental health issues affecting Middle School children are:
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Let’s take each one of these issues in turn and discuss how they can affect a child’s mental health and emotional wellbeing, and how to support them in overcoming this.
What is anxiety? To put it simply, anxiety is excessive worrying about things that happened, or about things that might happen. The worry at times is unwarranted or is more intense than the situation calls for. It is the “what if” that constantly interrupts your thoughts. What if my teacher calls on me and I don’t know the answer? What if no one wants to sit with me at lunch? What if I get COVID19? These are just some examples of “what if” situations that could go through your child’s mind.
A certain amount of worry is normal, and can be beneficial and help avoid dangerous situations. Someone who worries about grades will prepare for the test. Someone who worries about getting COVID19 will wash their hands and wear a mask. An anxiety disorder, however, can cause a teenager to spend an excessive amount of time feeling worried or nervous, which can affect their concentration, confidence, sleep, appetite, mood, and health.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can come on suddenly, or can build gradually. Sometimes anxiety creates a sense of doom that seems to come out of nowhere. It’s common for kids with an anxiety disorder to have difficulty figuring out what they are worried about. If you notice an excessive amount of worry and suspect your child has anxiety, make an appointment with your pediatrician or a therapist.
How are anxiety disorders treated?
Anxiety disorders can be treated by mental health professionals. Cognitive-behavioural therapy teaches new ways to think and act in situations that can cause anxiety. Kids also learn how to manage and deal with stress during these sessions, which will help them throughout their adult life, as well. The therapist provides support and guidance and teaches new coping skills, such as relaxation techniques or breathing exercises. In some situations, medication is used as part of the treatment for anxiety.
What is depression? Depression is a feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and despair that lasts for weeks, months, or longer. Depression is different than the usual sadness that occurs when we have a fight with a friend, or lose a valued possession. If the anxiety question is “What if?,” then the depression question is “Why bother?”
Depression affects a person’s energy and their motivation and ability to enjoy the things they usually enjoy. Teens with depression are often irritable, isolating, and have sleep and appetite problems. They may even have thoughts or actions of self harm.
Many of the symptoms of depression are often written off as typical teenage behaviors. Behaviors like lashing out, becoming more withdrawn or not enjoying the things that they used to may be a sign that your teen is having trouble coping with the stresses in their daily lives.
Because it is normal for a child to exhibit changes in mood, eating and sleeping, often it is hard for a parent to know if their teen is suffering from depression. If any of the above symptoms exist at the same time, it could be cause for concern. Pay attention if your teen’s grades are declining or they are having behavior issues in school, like fighting or losing friends.
How is depression treated?
The first step is to consult with your child’s pediatrician. They may do a medical exam to rule out any medical cause for the depressive symptoms. It is important to get your child into therapy if they are experiencing depression. Individual therapy can help teenagers to understand their emotions, put feelings into words, and feel understood and supported. In therapy, kids can also learn how to change negative thinking patterns and increase self-esteem, which will be invaluable throughout their life.
Overcoming depression might include therapy, medication, or both. A therapist might teach mindfulness skills and recommend daily exercise, exposure to daylight, or better ways of eating.
3. ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD)
What is ADHD? ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. Most middle-schoolers with ADHD lag behind their peers in their executive functioning skills. These skills include competence in flexible thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management, and the ability to organize.
If your teen has ADHD, they may lose things, forget things, and be disorganized. If they don’t manage to do the assignment, they may lose it before turning it in. Teens with ADHD often have messy rooms and messy backpacks. They have trouble getting projects started, and then trouble finishing what has been started.
ADHD can be diagnosed by a healthcare professional like a pediatrician, a neurologist or a therapist. Your child’s doctor can have you and your teen’s teachers fill out checklists.
How is ADHD treated?
Usually, a combination of medication and behavior therapy is best in treating teens with ADHD. At Da Vinci Collaborative, we also offer Parent Coaching, so parents can learn how to help their teens get better at managing their attention, behavior, and emotions.
Overall, it can be concerning as a parent to see changes in your teen. However, once you know what signs and symptoms to look for, you are in a better position to help them get the help they need. Reach out to Da Vinci’s Mental Health and Behavior Division if you and your child need more information about mental health issues and treatment.