Talking To A School Shooter

Talking To A School Shooter

The other day I had the privilege of talking to a school shooter. When I say privilege, I don’t mean it in a way to glorify what he did, but it’sThe other day I had the privilege of talking to a school shooter. When I say privilege, I don’t mean it in a way to glorify what he did, but it’s not everyday that an opportunity presents itself for me to try to get into the mind of someone who was determined to carry out mass murder. Often these people kill themselves or are killed before anyone has a chance to understand why they did what they did, or like the Parkland shooter, are kept very isolated with only the psychologist and a handful of corrections officers having regular contact with him.

As a psychotherapist, this intrigues me. In undergrad I excitedly took classes such as Profiling Serial Killers, Understanding Mass Murder and The Anatomy of Violent Crimes. Yet, I had never been able to actually study someone in person so that I could better understand how to try to help others before they commit violent crimes as well as identify potential ticking time bombs.

With the nature of my job currently revolving a lot around criminal psychology, I end up talking to some of the worse of human kind on a daily basis. On a regular day I talk to murderers, rapists, child molesters and have even on multiple occasions attempted to talk to a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel accused of over a dozen murders. So far he has refused to talk to me or anyone else for that matter.

Without going into too much detail because this case is still pending, I would like to share some of what I have learned from talking to a school shooter.

The first thing I noticed about this particular school shooter was his small, non-threatening stature. He looked like your typical high school student, except there was no light behind his eyes. When he looked and talked to me, there wasn’t any emotion there.

I won’t go into if he has a mental illness or not, but he says he grew up in a family that was full of mental health issues, namely untreated bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He says he was never physically or sexually abused, but witnessed a lot of family violence. As he says, his earliest memories are those of violence and conflict.

He had isolated himself at a young age. He didn’t feel attached or loved by his family. He had a lot of anger inside of him. He attempted to channel that anger by going into the military, but as a teenager he had gotten involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for a yet unknown reason, something that would later prevent him from joining the military.

Feeling even angrier, depressed and rejected because of that, he turned to Mixed Martial Arts as an outlet for his violent thoughts, but a knee injury caused him to have to stop training for awhile. It was during this time that his anger, depression and feelings of isolation grew and he started planning a mass shooting.

Planning included finding a way to legally buy a gun without a background check through a certain loop hole in the system. Planning included blending in with students of a high school he had dropped out of a couple of years ago, smuggling his weapon in using a musical instrument case and then going into the bathroom and putting on a tactical vest and gloves.

Before and during the incident, he reports he felt no anger or fear, just an adrenaline rush. He denies having any specific targets, any hate or anger towards any individual or group of people.

Although he says he feels remorseful, there are no emotions with his words. Yet he says the incident could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for a girl’s screams that broke him out of his trance. He says it was her screams that made him feel horrible about what he was doing. Her screaming triggered memories of his childhood and made him and everyone around him, human again.

Some of the signs I’ve learned to look for from talking to him and studying other school shooters include:

  • Leakage- which is when people leave behind often unconscious clues, sometimes as a cry for help such as violent themes in their artwork or writing.
  • Low tolerance for frustration.
  • Poor coping skills.
  • Lack of resiliency.
  • Depression
  • Alienation
  • Dehumanizing others
  • Lack of empathy
  • Family appears to lack intimacy and closeness.
  • No limits or monitoring of TV and internet
  • Turbulent parent-child relationship

While it’s too late to have prevented this incident, I do hope that by continuing to learn from this individual and others, we’ll be able to prevent future tragedies. As long as I have access to him, I will continue to attempt to understand the mind of someone who would shoot up a school in Parkland, Florida, a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, a church in Charleston, South Carolina, a restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, a music festival in Las Vegas or a nightclub in my hometown Orlando, Florida.

The Mentally Ill and Incarceration: A Broken System

The Mentally Ill and Incarceration: A Broken System

Working in a jail or prison is like working in a large mental health hospital, without all the necessary trained staff needed to actually run effectively.

As a matter of fact, the biggest mental health providers in our nation right now are our jails. The three biggest mental-health providers in the nation today are: the Cook County Jail in Chicago, the Los Angeles County Jail and Rikers Island jail in New York.

These are no places for people who are severely and chronically mentally ill.

Decades ago when there were plenty of beds in state hospitals, the most severely ill were often locked away in asylums and forgotten in order to “keep society safe”. Often times they were locked away and offered no real help and suffered horrible conditions and treatment.

Today jails and prisons have become the new asylums.

The mentally ill often get into trouble due to their illness. Often the crimes are as harmless as sleeping on a park bench, trespassing or having an open container of alcohol. Rarely are they violent offenses.

A 2010 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association estimated that 40 percent of the seriously mentally ill have been in jail or prison at least once in their lives.

In the county jail I work in I would say about 75% have some sort of mental illness while about 10% have a severe mental illness that should be treated at a psychiatric facility and not in jail.

Most jails and prisons, like us are understaffed. We currently have four full mental health professionals including myself and a psychiatrist. Ideally, we’d have at least three or four more but there’s not enough funding.

Many corrections officers are under trained when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill and the overall outlook of mentally ill inmates on both medical and security staff in jails and prisons is not usually conducive to effective treatment. Especially for the severely and chronically mentally ill who are often in and out of jail.

Like the young lady I met earlier this week. She’s a 38 year old woman who came up in the foster care system. She had came from an abusive and neglectful family and it’s unclear if the abuse and neglect caused her mental illness or if she was abused and neglected because of it. Either way, starting at a young age she suffered almost every kind of horrible abuse you can imagine.

As an adult she has been arrested over 20 times for everything from possession of cocaine, parole violations and battery.

In 2001 she was arrested for aggravated battery after she attacked and kicked a state hospital guard who ended up suffering a heart attack and dying.

In 2003 she was arrested after two men reported they had unprotected sex with her without knowing she was HIV positive. She later told authorities she knew she had HIV since 1999 and didn’t tell any of the at least 200 men she claims to have had unprotected sex with. She plead guilty and served 23 months.

She continues to cycle between being on the streets, going to jail, the state hospital and prison.

Often times no one wants to take her (the state nor DCF) because she is so mentally ill and has grown more and more violent.

When she came into our jail there was a big push to get her out and back to some place that could manage her better.She’s trapped in a system that in some ways may have helped create her and doesn’t want anything to do with her.

In many ways she has been abandoned since she was a child and as an adult who is now nearing the end stages of AIDS, she is still alone and abandoned.

Continuing to incarcerate the mentally ill over and over again doesn’t work. It doesn’t help anyone. We lock them up where they may or may not get treatment and then send them back out on the street where they may or may not get treatment.

What’s the solution?

We need more state and federal funding for mental health, reform treatment laws to address intervention, assisted outpatient treatment for released mentally ill inmates, expansion of mental health courts that offer treatment instead of incarceration and ideally a health care system that provides systematic health care for those suffering from a mental illness.

If we can find a way and the money to build a wall between between the United States and Mexico, surely we can do this!

 

 

 

 

10 Tips For Dealing With Depression

10 Tips For Dealing With Depression

There is a lot of stigma when it comes to mental health issues, even common ones like depression. Often times when people feel depressed they feel ashamed, as if they don’t have the right to feel depressed. Many will attempt to hide the way they feel and just say they are doing “ok”. Many more will try to drown their depression with alcohol, drugs and even other people.

It’s okay to be depressed. When you’re depressed that means something in your life is not going the way you want it to go and you need to sit down and evaluate your life so that you can move in a different direction. That may mean making small changes, big changes or accepting something for what it is if you can’t change it at all.

These are some of my favorite tips on dealing with depression:

  1. You’re not alone. Many people go through depression at some point in their lives. Some people suffer from clinical and chronic depression while others seem to bounce out of it pretty quickly. If you’re feeling down, just know that you’re not the only person who feels that way and it’s actually pretty common.
  2. It’s okay to seek professional help. Sometimes family and friends just don’t understand why you’re not happy. They’ll say that your life isn’t “that bad” and that there are many people out there who have it worse. Most of them are trying to be helpful even when they leave you feeling like crap. People like me are trained and paid to listen and can help you maneuver your way through the pain.
  3. Medications can help if needed, but they are not the only answer.  When people start feeling depressed, many of them will immediately want medication to make the bad feelings go away. Most people going through depression do not need antidepressants, but even if you do, they may only help so much. Antidepressants are good for getting people out of deep depression so that they can intellectually and physically function enough to actually process what’s going on in their lives and attempt to make changes to feel better.
  4. Remember to take care of yourself. Even if that means writing notes to remind yourself to do simple things such as taking a bath or eating nutritious meals. Doing the self-care things you don’t feel like doing will make you feel better in the end.
  5. If you really don’t know what might be making you depressed consider getting some blood work done. Anything from vitamin D deficiency, low iron and hormonal issues to blood sugar problems can cause you to feel depressed and lethargic. Curing your depression can be as simple as correcting an imbalance in your body.
  6. Learn and practice daily mindfulness and meditation. Start with something as simple as focusing on your breathing. Imagine breathing in slowly through your nose to smell a birthday cake and exhaling slowly through your mouth to blow out the candle. Focus on your breathing, try to keep your mind from wandering to all the bullshit and just be in the present moment.
  7. Stay away from emotional vampires. You need all your energy when you’re going through the depression. You don’t have any to spare so stay away from anyone who will drain what little you have left. Instead, try to surround yourself with people who can help you refuel your energy.
  8. Don’t envy others. Everyone is, has or will go through their stuff. You’re just going through yours. Even if someone looks happy, well put together or whatever, they still have things they are dealing with that you might not know about. The grass is not always, or even usually greener on the other side.
  9. If you can find the energy, go for a walk. Exercise, fresh air and sunlight are great for depression. Even small steps help.
  10. Learn to let go. A lot of times depression is about the past. Past guilt. Past disappointments. Past hurts. Learn to let go and you will reclaim so much of the strength and energy you are given up. As the saying goes, let go or be dragged.

There are so many great tips out there on dealing with depression. Hopefully this will get you started, but definitely find tips that work for you and know that you can come out of depression a stronger person.

Those Left Behind: The Aftermath of Suicide

young-women-comfortingEarly yesterday morning I got a call from the Health Services Administrator (HSA) at the jail informing me that a nurse had committed suicide overnight.
It was a shock because I knew this nurse and had just saw her two days earlier. The HSA wanted me to come in and help break the news to the other medical staff and offer support to those who needed it.
I prepared myself for that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was getting a call from her grieving fiancé who of course was having a very difficult time dealing with the tragedy.
He had spoken to her before she committed suicide, through text messaging. She had texted him a picture of a bunch of pills, but she had done that before and he thought it was an attention seeking, manipulation game and so he ignored it.
Now that she is gone he is blaming himself.
The night shift nurses, the ones that worked closes with her took it the hardest. Especially one young nurse who had grown attached to her. She broke down and sobbed continuously. She kept talking about how strange it was going to be to come to work and not see her there.
This woman also left behind two young children.
It is estimated that each suicide affects at least six people, including family, close friends, co-workers and neighbors.
After a loved one has committed suicide, it’s not uncommon for those affected by their death to start falling apart from the intense grief and the fruitless search for the answer “why?”.
The people left behind to deal with the impact of suicide often find themselves so emotionally devastated that it’s hard to move forward.
This feelings often include:
  • Shock– most people experience shock or a sense of emotional and physical numbness as the first reaction to learning someone they care about has committed suicide. It’s the mind and bodies natural way of trying to slow things down until it can try to make sense of what happened.
  • Anger– people often feel anger, either directly or indirectly. They may be angry at the person who committed suicide, angry at themselves for not being able to prevent it, or angry at the persons therapist for not being able to “cure” the person.
  • Guilt– Loved ones, in an attempt to find answers to why a person killed themselves often ruminate on signs they may have missed. They may blame themselves for not expressing love, for being too distant, for not believing the person when they said they were depressed for the 1ooth time. The “what ifs” can go on and on.
  • Fear– Once someone has committed suicide, it’s not uncommon for family members to become afraid that they will lose someone else to suicide or that even they themselves could possibly commit suicide.
  • Relief– It’s also not uncommon for family and friends to feel a sense of relief, especially if the individual suffered from chronic mental or physical illness (i.e, intense pain) or even if they person had been on a long, steady decline of self-destructive behaviors such as drug addiction.
  • Depression– While it’s natural to go through grief when you’ve lost someone close to you, it’s not uncommon for grief to turn into depression if that loved one took their own life. The person may experience sleep disturbance, lose of appetite and loss of energy.  This can translate into feelings of life being worthless and losing joy in things one once found enjoyable.
In normal grief, all of these feelings will start to ease up overtime, it only becomes concerning when they remain very intense and do not seem to improve with time.
For people affected by an individuals suicide, it’s important that they:
  • Stay Close to family and friends– having a good support system is important to keep an individual from isolating themselves and ruminating on the suicide, especially in the first 6 months. The person may not feel like being around others and may not be ready to talk about their feelings, but they still need to have supportive contact.
  • Give children special attention– Children especially may have a hard time coping with a loved ones suicide. They need special attention so that they can express their emotions and talk them out. They need to know that grief is a normal process and need the adults in their lives to model healthy grieving for them, including open communication, sharing feelings and reminding them that they are loved and supported.
  • Be aware of special occasions– holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., can all be very stressful times.People may need extra support or checking up on.
It takes time to heal from the loss of a loved one, especially when that person has committed suicide. While the pain may feel like it’s never going to go away, it will get better. Having the support of loved ones will help with that process.
Remember to express love for the person that was lost, love for the family and friends that are still here and and love for yourself.

Drawing From Emotional Pain: One Artist’s Struggle With Mental Illness

DestinyBlue's photo.
In psychology there has long thought to be a link between mental illness and creativity. While disorders like depression tend to affect many people, creative types such as writers, musicians, inventors and dancers seem to get hit twice as hard.
I will follow this post with a discussion on mental illness and creativity later, but today I would like to share something special.
One of my favorite artists, Destiny Blue recently shared with her fans her struggle with anxiety and depression. Her story was touching and powerful. The fact that she shared it on her birthday, May 22nd made it even more special as she was giving such a great gift to so many other people. She wanted her story shared and with her permission, I am thankful that she is allowing me to share it here in hopes that it will help others who think they are suffering alone or are ashamed of their illness. We both hope it will inspire others to reach out and seek help.

Destiny Blue

Hi I’m Blue, and I struggle with mental illness.

Some of you will dismiss me, some of you will be scared of me, some of you will blame me, but a surprising amount of you will understand me, because 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues. Considering so many people experience it, we hear so little about it; it’s the family secret you can’t tell anyone, the fake smile so know one knows, the calling in sick but blaming food poisoning. It’s hard for me to write about, but I write this hoping it makes it easier for the next person to speak about it.

I am going to tell you my story, of my path with mental illness. I don’t know if it has a happy ending yet…

It began with a tough situation at home, which triggered the anxiety. It’s hard to explain the exact feeling. It’s kind of like where you’re leaning back on your chair, and go that bit too far and you just about to fall back. That sudden jolt of panic inside your chest, that half second spike that makes you fling your hands forward and grab the desk infront of you to steady yourself. That ‘oh shit’ moment. It’s that. Only it didn’t last for half a second, for even a minute, it lasted years. I thought I’d just have to live with it until the situations improved, but even when it did anxiety still clung to me like a scarf of live electricity. That feeling could come when I was alone in a room, sitting comfortably, with nothing to do and a clear day ahead. The world would spin and tumble, and I’d want to put my hands out to grab the desk and steady myself, but there was nothing there. Nothing to grab onto. Over and over.

And so, through anxiety’s hot trickery depressions cold crept in, it sat at the back of my mind and laughed at me. “Why are you even trying? It’s useless anyway” and when you’re fighting a non-existent force from a chair you’re not even really sitting on it’s hard to argue with that. And this feeling spread.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t feel happy, and it wasn’t total sadness per-se, I did feel sad, but the harshness of depression is that it makes the process of living excruciating. It’s like walking through thick treacle, every movement pushed against and held back by sticky tar. Suffocating and exhausting. Even when there’s no energy left you still have to walk. This same tar is in your brain, slowing your thoughts, numbing your feelings, even when there’s no energy left, you can never stop thinking. Then everything feels overwhelming. Even the small things, one task in particular for me, washing my clothes, was a mountain, even to think about it required so much energy, I could wash my clothes, but then I’d have to pick up the dirty clothes, taken them to the washer, open the washer, put the clothes in the washer, close the door, open the detergent bottle, put the detergent in. It was just too much. So the clothes sat there. And you know it’s absurd, everyone else can do it no trouble, so, I thought, maybe I’m just lazy, I should push on, I’m a strong person, so I pushed. Now you can push yourself do enough to look like your functioning normally, but it doesn’t get rid of the tar, the sticky molasses in your veins, on the outside I was normal enough, inside I was decaying. My mind was ablaze trying to grab a desk and my soul was swallowed in the bitter treacle. The worst thing, was that I never felt at peace, however still I sat, however beautiful the morning, however hard it was searched for, no peace arrived. It was torture, and my own mind was the torturer.

I didn’t -want- to kill myself, that’s messy, and probably involved going out of the house, a body, sad friends. I just wanted to be dead. My brain fantasized about it. That sweet release of deep restful unexistence, it seemed so much better than existing like this. If only, I thought, there weren’t people who loved me. It’s a sick twisted logic you don’t have control over; to you it all makes sense. I didn’t even know I was depressed, I thought what I was feeling was justified, life -was- meaningless, I -would- be better off dead. It had been a slow decline into darkness, the light wasn’t just switched off, I had no ‘oh shit it’s dark’ moment, I didn’t even realise I couldn’t see properly, my eyes had adjusted to the dark as the light faded, my mind replacing reality with it’s own twisted night vision, of strange shadows and dark half logic.

Yeah, I won’t go out today, no I don’t need to do my essay yet, it can wait, they probably don’t want to hang around with me anyway, It’s not worth it, I’m not worth it, I’m worthless.

So I hurt myself. Mostly to feel better, or to feel something, I’m not sure, but it proved a point. When I saw what I had done to my own skin, I had a thought: “This is what sick people do” The thought turned over a few times in my head and twisted into a lump in my throat “Am -I- sick?” That was the first time I really realised. Despite crippling depression, despite feeling suicidal, being unable to properly care for myself, I had barely thought I was ill, I’d just thought I was lazy, or sad, or worthless. But I looked at the blood, and the damage I’d done, and knew I needed help.

So I went to the doctor, and yes, I was sick, and the slow process began. Full of relapse and recovery. It’s not over, and it may never be for me, it’s more complicated than I can say here. But now I can recognise the signs and know what to look out for and I have learned how to manage my condition. I took a break at the start of this year, and didn’t do any conventions, just focused on getting better and giving myself a steady foundation to stand on for the rest of this year. At the moment I am doing well, and I appreciate the peace in my head so much more now I’ve known such darkness. But life is worth living, and I try and do it with vitatily.

Depression is so disgusting because it erodes the you-ness of you, the qualities you like in yourself are taken over, even the things you enjoy doing you have to do in the tar. It is not your fault, though it can feel like it is, and others may think it is. I hate that some people think it shows weakness. It shows no more weakness than walking up a mountain with a broken leg shows weakness. Your brain’s broken and you must get on -despite- that, doing the washing can be a huge victory, higher than climbing a mountain with a broken leg, and a lot more sensible. People congratulate me for creating a piece of art, or running my own business. No one congratulated me when I did my washing. But really, in my darkest time, it was one of my greatest achievements. And, on some future day where I’m feeling bad, putting another load of washing on will be a big achievement again.

I juts wanted to let you guys know that you were a small light in the huge darkness. Thank you so much for all your comments and notes, I treasure each one of you. Thank you for always being there for me. It’s a wonderful feeling to know I can reach out and so many people would grab my hand to help. I know many of you are suffering with the same thing I did. Please reach out, and for those of you willing to, please offer a hand to someone when they reach out, they probably need it more than you know, they might even need it more than they know.

It’s my birthday, and if I have a birthday wish, it’s for this message to be shared.

Peace, love, and mental well-being,

Blue x

Andreas Lubitz; The Plane Crash And Mental Illness

Andreas Lubitz; The Plane Crash And Mental Illness

Andreas-Lubitz-Germanwings-PilotThere’s been a lot of talk about the mental health of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot that crashed the Germanwings plane into the French Alps.

As more details come out, it appears obvious that he was suffering from some type of depression, psychosis and/or personality disorder. Without having examined him myself, I can only speculate by the information covered by the news outlets, but I do know that there are certain forms of mental illness that make a person more likely to not only kill themselves, but to take the lives of other people with them.

Sometimes severe depression can include psychotic features that come and go. This is often missed when the person sees a clinician because the psychosis may not be present during the examination, only the depression, therefore the person is treated only for depression.

If a person has psychotic depression combined with grandiosity, egocentricity and lack of morals/conscience, that can lead to a person who almost has a god like complex where they believe that not only is their lives in their own hands, but so are the lives of other people. Thank goodness that this type of condition coupled with violence is rare.

Usually people who are depressed and/or have suicidal tendencies are only focused on harming themselves. They would never take the lives of another person, much less that of a stranger. Depressed people and people who suffer from a mental illness in general are not dangerous, it’s only when these mental illnesses are combined with other conditions such as psychosis and/or a personality disorder that they can become disastrous.

For example, as we stated above, some forms of depression can have short episodes of psychosis . Conditions such as bipolar disorder sometimes may also include psychotic features, where the person may be depressed and hallucinating or manic, grandiose and delusional. The contents of the psychosis may or may not be aggressive.

Because people with bipolar disorder often only go see a doctor when they are deeply depressed, they are often misdiagnosed with depression and given antidepressants which can then send that person into a manic episode. I’m not saying that is what happened to this pilot, but his girlfriend reported that he made statements such as “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.” This is a very grandiose statement.

There’s even some reports that his vision problems he was so afraid would cost him his career may have been psychosomatic, meaning that they weren’t organic kn nature but psychological. His mental illness could have been causing him to believe he was losing his vision.

On top of that, perhaps the thoughts he shared with his girlfriend only alluded to even more grandiose and obsessive thoughts. Some people with mental disorders suffer from painful,  oppressive, relentless, intrusive thoughts that may be scary and constant.

For example, a person with Obessive-Compulsive Disorder may know that they turned off the oven before they left the house because they checked 10 times, yet they can’t get the thought out of their head that they may have left it on and it will burn down their house so they recheck it again and again causing them to be late for work every day. Or the husband who has the obsessive thought that his wife is cheating, although he knows she’s not, yet he can’t get the thoughts out of his head so he is constantly accusing her, checking her phone, going through her things and driving her crazy.

Also, in some personality disorders and psychosis, there can be very grandiose ideas where the person thinks they are better than everyone else and that no ones life really matters. This could have played a role in the airplane crash and would help explain the selfishness and egocentricity of killing oneself with no regard for the lives of the other 150 people and their families.

For the most part, people with mental illnesses can maintain very successful lives and careers, such as being an airplane pilot, but only if they are diagnosed and treated properly. Often people with mental illness are misdiagnosed or don’t ever get treated because they don’t believe they need help or because of stigma.

People who suffer from bipolar disorder often like the high of the mania therefore they don’t get treated or take their medication accordingly. People suffering from psychosis often don’t realize that they are psychotic and therefore decline treatment.

I once spent several weeks trying to convince a successful business man suffering from bipolar disorder that he was not only bipolar, but needed medication to help control himself. At the time he was manic, had been arrested 3 times in 2 months for various reckless behaviors and was on the brink of losing everything. It was only after he had a long time to think in solitary confinement did he start to have some insight and agreed to treatment.

This pilot, suffering from real or psychosomatic vision problems he believed would end his career, seized the opportunity to not only end his suffering, but to live out his grandiose fantasy of going down in history, once he was alone in the cockpit. In his right mind this pilot wouldn’t have did what he did, but his mental illness made him impulsive and in that moment he did something that could never be undone.

Often times suicide is an impulsive act. A person may have the thought, but without adequate means they won’t harm themselves. However, if the impulse is strong enough and a weapon of destruction is within reach, the urge to kill themselves may win out over any desire to live.

Once again, at this point it is pure speculation as to what was actually going on inside of Andreas Lubitz mind at the time he made that fatal decision. However, this gives us a great opportunity to have an open discussion about mental illness no matter if it’s our own or others.

Signs Your Teen May Need To See A Counselor

Bored-teenage-girl-on-couch-jpgVery often I have parents ask me if I think their teen needs counseling. They will tell me about different behaviors they have observed and pretty much ask me if it is “normal”.

The advice I normally give is, if you think your teen needs counseling, they probably do. I have seen more instances of teens not receiving mental health help or receiving it once the issue has gotten out of hand, then I have of parents bringing their teens in for counseling when they are perfectly “normal”.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen parents who have brought their teens in for counseling only for me to soon realize that it was the parent that actually needed help, and not their teen.

In any case, it never hurts to schedule a session for your teen if you think they may need help. A trained mental health professional will be able to tell you in a couple of sessions or so if your teen needs further help or if the issue extends further into the family system.

Some signs that your teenager may need counseling

  • Mood swings– Yes we all know that teenagers have mood swings. It is definitely part of that developmental age, but as a parent, you should have a general baseline of your teens mood swings. If their mood swings seem extreme or are way outside of your teens normal mood swings (too depressed, too elated, too labile, etc.) trust your gut, it may be worth looking into with a trained professional.
  • Self-medicating– Some teens will try to hide or control their issues, especially when they don’t understand why they think or feel a certain way. Many will turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, self-mutilation, or eating disorders just to name a few, in an effort to make themselves feel better. If you notice your teen involved in any of these things it’s almost a guarantee that they are trying to mask something else, that could be anything from low self-esteem to sexual abuse and it’s worth investigating.
  • Changes in friends– many times when a teen is suffering from a mental illness it will impact their ability to maintain healthy friendships. They may push friends away or become too clingy. You may see some of your teens friends start wanting to avoid them or your teens choices of friends may drastically change.
  • Changes in school performance– is another sign that your teen may be suffering from some form of mental illness. It’s generally hard to concentrate and focus when one is in a poor mental state and this can affect a teens grades and/or conduct.
  • Physical symptoms– if your teen suddenly starts to care less about their appearance, stops taking showers, gains or loses a lot of weight or starts complaining of psychosomatic symptoms like backaches, headaches or stomach aches, these are all possible signs that your teen is dealing with something they can’t handle alone.
  • Behavior changes– behavior like mood can change a lot during the teenage years, but for the most part, if you teens starts presenting as a totally different person to you then it may indicate either a mental illness or substance abuse issue.

Being a teenager is hard and most teens will try their best to hide their problems from their parents, which is why it is imperative that parents are attune with their teenagers. Today it’s even easier for teens to hide how they really feel through social media so parents have to be vigilant to monitor their social media pages as well in order to gain insight into what is really going on with their teen.

With the appropriate help, all mental and emotional issues can be treated and managed so if you  have to ask the question, “Is this normal”, chances are you should contact a qualified mental health professional for a further evaluation.