From the time our children are babies, we hear about the dreaded “teenage” years. The number of people who dread this phase of their family life suggests that the road through is not always clear or simple. Popular media portrays a range of adolescent woes, and as their parents and caregivers, we may or may not receive good guidance about how to parent youth through this critical stage in their development. Some youth manage the transition between childhood and adulthood with little difficulty and minimal conflict, and some experience adolescence and young adulthood as an extremely challenging phase of life. As we all know, children don’t come with instruction manuals, and because the rules and expectations keep changing, we can’t even rely entirely on role models from our own childhood – there was nothing like Facebook, Twitter or online dating back then. It is also unclear, especially at the outset, if the changes in our youth are “normal” for their age and stage of life, or an indication of something more. With a little guidance, and a healthy dose of patience, parents and youth can adapt, grow, and maintain a respectful and intact relationship that serves as a healthy foundation for the years to come. Michele has spent much of her career supporting families to navigate this sometimes challenging phase of life.
What are Adolescent Mental Health Problems Versus ‘Normal’ Parent-Teen Conflict?
While the average adolescent will experience some fluctuations in their mood, appetite and sleep, mental health concerns are often accompanied by notable changes in two or more of these key areas. As a parent with few points of comparison, it is sometimes hard to know if the changes you are seeing are simply part of this stage of development, or a cause for concern. Working in mental health services for the past 15 years, Michele has had the benefit of speaking with many parents with similar questions. As a general guide, if the changes in sleep, appetite and/or mood are leading to an inability to keep up with usual daily routines and expectations, and the changes persist longer than six weeks, there is reason to investigate a bit further. Parent-teen conflict can also increase amid changes, and soon there are multiple impacts being experienced throughout the family. These are the kind of situations that may benefit from brief counseling, even if the situation is not a mental health concern.
Typical parent-teen conflict involves a struggle of wills between a youth who wants greater freedoms and a parent or parents who want the youth to demonstrate greater responsibility. There are other common themes, like struggles around safety, school, friends, internet, illicit substance use etc. This is a developmental stage with potential for positive growth, though navigating it can be tricky due to a host of resolvable but complicating factors. A family and youth counsellor can help assess what’s going on, and will offer intervention to restore relationships when tensions have started to build.
Though the typical adolescent rite of passage can already be complex on its own, about one in every five youth will develop mental health concerns as well. Youth mental health concerns may include a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, an eating disorder, an attention disorder or a psychotic disorder. Most mental health diagnoses of adulthood first emerge between the ages of 16 and 24 years of age. Youth may also be at a stage where earlier problems are now becoming more pronounced, such as conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder. These, as well as learning disorders, autistic spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental delays are usually detected earlier in childhood, prior to age twelve.
Whether the challenges are developmental, mental health, or both, intervention at the early stages of these concerns provides the best outcomes. Adolescence can be a bumpy time in family relationships, though it does not inevitably lead to negative outcomes. Counseling with or without the participation of everyone in the family can be useful, and can alleviate some of the stress, speed the return to respectful family interactions, and improve the quality of relationships going forward into the next phase of family life. If you are feeling stressed by trying to navigate your family members’ teenage or young adult years, call to book an appointment with Michele in Langley, BC for youth counselling services.
What Causes Adolescent Mental Health Concerns?
Mental health concerns, like other complex medical conditions (i.e., heart disease, diabetes), evolve due to a combination of factors. Generally, there are contributions from genetic and other risk factors that predispose a person to be ‘vulnerable’ combined with stressors, or lived experiences that increase a person’s risk. Not all people who develop mental health concerns have close relatives with a history of mental illness, and not all people who are born into a family with history of mental illness will experience mental health concerns. For any mental health concern, there are typically several contributors. The specific treatment for mental health concerns depends on diagnosis and other factors. In most cases, the best evidence calls for a combination of medical and counseling intervention.
How and When Should I Seek Youth Counselling?
Generally, if a problem is something that will go away without intervention, your young family member will be back to their “normal” in about six weeks or less. If the problem persists and starts to impact their functioning, this would be a reasonable point to seek help. If the youth makes any comments or gestures about suicide, seek help immediately. If the source of the concern is not clear, the best avenue for an accurate assessment is a face to face meeting with a physician and/or a mental health professional. Each city has a public-funded mental health centre for children and another for adults. The demand for help often exceeds the ability of the local mental health office to provide the services requested to everyone. Fortunately, the public-funded care is just a part of the help available. Many people choose to access mental health services through qualified private therapists along with follow up from a family doctor or psychiatrist. Michele has several years of experience working with youth, families, and mental health, including a number of years as a clinical supervisor and trainer of other mental health professionals in British Columbia.
Many extended health insurance plans will cover all or partial funding for the services of a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist (RMFT), a Registered Social Worker (RSW) and/or a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC). Check with your plan for applicable coverage. Prior to booking an appointment, you may speak with Michele in Langley, BC for a complimentary consultation to ask any questions you may have.
Some approaches to treatment focus on helping the individual to build their skills for coping without attending to the significant relationships in the person’s life. Individually focused interventions can be a helpful part of treatment. When the individual is part of a family, any change they make will impact other members of the family and vice versa. Families are most successful in supporting one person’s positive change when more than one person is part of the treatment. Being part of it, or even just being informed about the changes a family member wants to make, allows other family members to accommodate the changes, and improves the likelihood of being able to sustain the changes. Otherwise, there can be a drift back to the way things were before, only the person who has tried and failed to sustain a positive change can feel defeated, making a second attempt even harder. Family therapy is beneficial and cost-effective.
Michele takes a family approach to intervention, regardless how many people attend appointments. In this way, the person gains skills for coping, and part of the work is focused on how to enlist the help of others to support and sustain any positive gains, or how to sustain change in anticipation of how others are likely to respond. Even the goals a person sets are developed with an awareness of other people in the family, and their wants, needs, and expectations.
Another advantage of working with a family therapist is that relationship strain often evolves from good intentions that go wrong. Often in family sessions, people gain better understanding about the others’ intentions, and sharing different perspectives on why something didn’t go well. This can reduce feelings of anger or hurt, enabling families to begin healing. When families are able to move the hurt or anger out of the way, family members become far more powerful sources of healing, support and wellness than any number of one to one counseling appointments. You have the key to healing and enriching your family life. Call or email Michele in Langley today.
Family and youth counselling is a brief and effective intervention. On average, family therapy requires 30 percent fewer sessions than individual therapy.