Life as a military kid isn’t easy. Our kids often see and experience more in their short lives than some adults do in their lifetimes.
This includes stressors not known by their civilian counterparts, such as moving and deployments. While not every military affiliated stressor is bad, per se, as our military kids grow into military teens, those stressors have the potential to grow into much more than the typical adolescent angst. One study suggested up to 25 percent of military teens are more likely to experience feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless and were at increased risk to contemplate suicide.
But how do we know if our teenager is headed down that dark path? How can we tell the difference between hormonal anger and sadness from having to move away from friends or have a parent deployed?
How do we know what to look for?
As military spouses, we’ve become well-versed with abnormal behavior in our service members, but your teen’s internal struggles will probably look different than the signs and symptoms on your radar. It’s easy to mistake their actions and feelings for regular teen behavior.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24.
With our military teens experiencing more than the average adolescent, there are a few things we need to watch out for:
- They’re always pissed off: irritability and anger already may just seem like every day teenage behavior, but most of the time, this is how depression presents in teenagers.
- They’re always sleeping: It’s not uncommon for teenagers to sleep 10-12 hours each day. But for some teens, this may be their way of isolating themselves from the world.
- They’re withdrawing: You may notice your teen has created a fortress of solitude in their room. They may just be withdrawing from mom and dad as a normal part of adolescence as they find their independence. But a depressed teen might withdraw from their friends and peers or start hanging with a different crowd entirely.
- Everything hurts: Sometimes depression doesn’t manifest as with just a sad face. In fact, most teens will complain of chronic headaches or stomachaches with no known cause.
- They are SUPER SENSITIVE: We almost expect this one on the daily. Teens are already hyper-sensitive, but for a teen with mental health issues, they aren’t able to handle rejection or criticism without feeling like they ‘suck’.
This all sounds like regular teenage life, right? How are these signs the symptoms of depression or a precursor to suicidal ideation? The trick is the timing. If your teen exhibits the above behaviors for two weeks or longer, it wouldn’t hurt to go see their PCM.
Additionally, watch out for these more obvious signs in your teen:
- Hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out
- Feeling no sense of purpose, no reason for living
- Reckless or risky behavior
- Alcohol or drug abuse
There are plenty of resources available for our mil-kids and teens. We need to teach our kids that their mental health is just as important as their physical health.
If you feel that your military teen needs help, Military OneSource has some fantastic resources and can help connect you with a mental health professional in your area. If your military teen is experiencing a crisis situation and you feel that they may harm themselves, either call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.