Clear signs a child or adolescent may require some support would be the young person expressing this wish directly. Alternatively they might have threatened or attempted suicide or they may talk about or actively harm themselves.
However, it is not always clear and some young people choose to hide their feelings. There are times in life when getting on with things and having a ‘stiff upper lip’ is important and necessary. However, many individuals - even very young children – learn to cover up their emotional state to such an extent that their mental and physical health deteriorates.
Freud put forward the concept that problems generally persist and proliferate if we don’t deal with them - no matter how much pushing down or pretending goes on – both of which can take a lot of energy and lead to even more complex problems.
Sometimes when young people act in a certain way it can be a sign that they want some help, but don’t know how to ask for it. The chances are if you are reading this, you already suspect a young person needs some additional emotional support, or you need some advice to help them move forward. However, it can be difficult to identify whether someone requires therapeutic support, especially if they do tend to put on a mask.
Signs tend to include one or a mixture of the following: - behaviour which is angry; loud; aggressive; obsessive; peculiar; hyperactive or withdrawn; intense, tearful and avoidant.
Relying on self medication such as alcohol and substance misuse may be another indication of an emotional difficulty that can be addressed through psychotherapy. Sleep and food intake may be problematic, for example eating too little, too much, purging, compulsive eating or obsessive rituals around food. Behaviour may be harmful towards self or others (including animals), or the person may be acting differently to how they usually behave.
If you are close to the person, such as a parent or professional working with someone, you may have noticed something you consider to be strange or out of the norm. You may be concerned that they are getting into trouble, sleeping more or less than usual, engaging in particular behaviours - such as overly sexualised behaviour, smoking, drinking or using illegal drugs.
Relationships may have deteriorated, the young person may be withdrawn or spending long periods of time on one thing in particular and becoming transfixed on this, for example a games consol; the internet; reading; playing music; watching pornography; television; going out all the time; only wearing certain clothes; avoiding mealtimes; bullying; upsetting other people (such as a sibling); spending time with selected people only such as a boyfriend, girlfriend or within a gang. Their health, including mental health may have deteriorated.
The child or adolescent may be aware that they need some support or in complete denial of this, either way psychotherapy can enable increased well-being in various ways, such as through helping to dissolve harmful patterns of behaving.
If you are still unsure it may help to ask yourself:
Are things deteriorating with the person in mind?
Have I been thinking about this a lot?
Do I wish for things to change, but the solutions I’ve tried so far have been unsuccessful – do you feel blocked in being able to move forward?
Am I familiar with this problem (for example you too may have had the same issue in your childhood), but my coping strategies aren’t working for this person?
Do I feel hopeless, anxious or angry about this situation?
Is this problem interfering with family life?
Do I sometimes wonder what it would be like if things were different? If someone didn’t exist? How it would be if I could turn back time?
Do I wish I could make something better, but this never happens no matter how hard I try?
Often by providing one individual with specific support it can have a positive outcome on those connected to that person. Please contact me to discuss anything mentioned above. I provide a confidential, safe and non-judgemental service. I am a child and adolescent psychotherapist (UKCP); a counsellor; arts and play therapist based in Chichester, covering Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. You can contact me here.