Normal Development, Difficulty or Diagnosis?
Some of our teen's behaviours can make us wonder, or even worry: is my child normal? Do they have a mental health issue? We have to be very careful about these kinds of assumptions and hypothesizing about diagnoses.
For example, a teenager may be going through a normal developmental period where they are more confrontational with their parents, but this may not necessarily be an oppositional disorder, for example. Or a teen may have difficulty with something, such as being a naturally shy person that finds certain situations to cause them anxiety, but this may not necessarily be an anxiety disorder.
The differences between these natural personal types and something diagnosable can often be frustratingly unclear. Don't hesitate to contact the professionals at LigneParents for more information, or to consult with someone who can guide you in analyzing your child's behaviour.
Diagnosing a Mental Health Disorder
Who can Diagnose?
Making a diagnosis is the exclusive responsibility of health care professionals. These professionals rely on a set of specific criteria, and an assessment of the intensity and duration of symptoms, before they make a diagnosis. Psychotherapeutic follow-up may be offered by psychologists, social workers, psychoeducators, etc. Prescribing medication, if necessary, is an act reserved for doctors (physicians, psychiatrists, or child psychiatrists).
Can we Rely on the Criteria Found Online?
We all have personality traits that set us apart and make us unique. When we search online for answers for particular personality traits, it's possible to quickly jump from ‘trait’ to ‘disorder’, even though there's a huge difference between the two. Before diagnosing a disorder, it helps if a personality is well defined and fully formed, which isn’t the case in adolescence. While some mental health problems are noticeable in adolescence, it's important to know that it may not always be helpful to diagnose a developing teenager. In short, it helps to be cautious with mental health diagnoses during adolescence and to consider the situations the teen is experiencing when assessing their overall condition.
My Teenager Thinks They Have a Mental Health Diagnosis: What Should I Do?
Some young people will try to put their struggles into words by doing research, or by consulting people in their life (friends, relatives, professionals). Their hypotheses may be justified, but it’s always necessary to consult a doctor to receive a real diagnosis.
One thing is certain: a person who shares a diagnostic hypothesis (e.g. I think I have an anxiety disorder, or I think I have depression) is a person who is in pain and is trying to explain or express themselves. So, we absolutely must listen to the emotions behind the labels they’re placing on their suffering, and we must listen to them without judgment, and explore what makes them believe this is happening to them. You can then seek information on the difference between difficulties and something diagnosable (e.g. between low mood or energy and depression, between stress and anxiety), which will allow you to look at the situation as a whole and sort out what is the relevant information. Afterwards, you can invite your teen to consult a mental health specialist (counsellors, psychologists, etc.) and a doctor to better understand the situation.
When do I Seek Help?
A young person may be going through a difficult time or mood and need psychological help. It's time to be concerned when your child's general state of health doesn't improve or even deteriorates after a few weeks, or if your child's social life suffers, or if his or her motivation to study or work is affected.
How do I Help them get a Consultation?
If your child is 13 years old or younger, the parent can make an appointment with a psychologist, psychoeducator, or social worker.
If your child is over the age of 14, as a parent you cannot force them to see a mental health professional. However, your teen also doesn't need parental permission to see a mental health professional. So, if you have their permission, you can ask for help at the CLSC or find a psychologist in the private sector. Some colleges and universities also offer psychological services at a low cost. This option can be useful for people who are faced with a long waiting list in the public sector.
A diagnosis allows you to:
- Be reassured about one's own condition
- Explain recurrent and distressing behaviours or emotions
- Better understand one's condition and better explain it to others
- Obtain possible solutions
But it can also:
- Not be representative of everyone's reality
- Be prejudices and full of stereotypes
- Be stigmatizing
- Give the illusion of being a doomed situation
Building on Your Child's Strengths
It's important to listen when a young person talks to you about their fears or feelings about a diagnosable condition, do not judge their emotions and seek professional information and resources afterwards.
With or without a diagnosis, it's important to bring our child's strengths to light, as well as the ways in which they're moving forward and facing up to their challenges. This allows them to take control of the situation rather than seeing themselves as someone living under the weight of a diagnosis or difficulty, or whatever it may be.
It is important to keep in mind that your child is not just their diagnosis and that not all their behaviours are related to their diagnosis.