Early Warning Signs of Teen Mental Illness


It is very common for parents to wonder whether their teen is displaying normal adolescent behavior or the warning signs of teen mental illness. It’s true that some parents do not even contemplate the idea of mental illness in their teen. However, because of the many changes that a teen goes through – emotional, psychological, social, and physical – the potential of developing a mental illness exists. Yet, most teens brush off certain behavior as being typically adolescent. But this is not always the case. For this reason, it’s important to recognize the signs of mental illness versus normal teenage behavior.


One of the classic symptoms of adolescence is a teen reaching for his or her independence. An adolescent will begin to pull away from parents and siblings in order to find their own way in the world. They will demand more privacy and even get easily angered when their privacy is being encroached upon.


Another important characteristic of teens is that they are highly emotional and impulsive during this time of life. This impulsivity and emotionality is mostly due to the teenage brain that is still developing. The part of the brain that governs logical thinking isn’t quite developed yet. Instead, teens will rely upon other parts of the brain that might cause them to react impulsively. However, getting easily angered, demanding privacy, pulling away from the family, and being impulsive are very normal characteristics of teens.


On the other hand, there are some clear warning signs of mental illness that parents should be aware of. These are:

  • Significant decrease in school performance
  • Decrease in enjoying pleasurable activities
  • Strong resistance to attending school
  • Significant changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or crying often
  • Displaying frequent aggressive behavior
  • Excessive neglect of hygiene
  • Hearing voices or having visions that others do not
  • Substance use
  • Significant problems with concentration and memory


Poor grades and declining school performance is one of the key indicators that a teen might be experiencing mental illness. Also, it’s common for a teen to search for ways to cope with the symptoms of mental illness, especially if they do not know what’s causing it. For instance, it’s common for teens to use drugs as a means to cope. They are frequently looking for relief from challenging emotions or for a way to better function in school, at home, or at work. In fact, approximately, 60-75% of teens who abuse drugs or alcohol also have a mental illness. So, substance abuse can be an indicator of teen mental illness.


Suicide attempts might also be a way to get out of the psychological pain teens experience. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens and young adults ages 15-24. Teens who are most at risk for losing their life to suicide include those who hide their depression or anxiety from parents and caregivers. Of course, if a teen is attempting suicide that already is a clear indication that there is a problem.


If you are a parent or caregiver and you recognize any of the above signs in your teen, contact a mental health provider today for assistance. By doing so, you can have your teen assessed, determine which mental illness he or she has, and decide upon the best treatment plan.