Key Mental Health Concerns to Look for in Teens

Adolescence is not always an easy time. The drastic changes that are taking place physically, emotionally, and psychologically are rough waters to cross, making adolescence challenging from some teens. For some teens, this stage in life is filled with explosive creativity and exploration; while for others the challenges of adolescence can take its toll and show up in various forms of mental illness.


Numerous research studies confirm that there are a large number of teens who have a mental illness. For instance, many teens struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar, substance abuse, and/or eating disorders. In fact, mental illness among teens is more prevalent than you might at first guess.


According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), just over 20% of teens (ages 13-18), either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. This equates to about  1 in 5 adolescents. Another way of saying this is that 46.3% of 13 to 18 year olds have a life time prevalence of some form of mental illness.


One very common category of mental illness among teens are mood disorders. These are illnesses that affect emotions, feelings, and moods. For instance, depression is one type of mood disorder, often causing moods of low energy and sadness. There is a lifetime prevalence of 14% of 13 to 18 year olds who experience mood disorders. And 4.7% of teens experience a severe mood disorder, such as severe bipolar disorder.


The following lists some basic symptoms of the key mental health concerns that are seen in teens, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, substance abuse, and eating disorders.


Symptoms of Depression

  • Anger and aggression, especially in male depressed teens
  • Low self-esteem, high self-criticism, extreme pessimism, especially if they are female
  • Anxiety
  • Confused and dysfunctional thinking
  • High self-consciousness
  • Irritable / depressed mood – the DSM allows for irritable mood to substitute for depressed mood in the criteria for making a diagnosis for depression.
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor interpersonal problem solving and high stress from close relationships
  • Antisocial behavior, particularly in males
  • Sleep disturbance – insomnia / hypersomnia
  • Appetite disturbance – weight loss/gain
  • Difficulty coping with stress from relationships, family environment, or depressed parents
  • Symptoms of other mental illnesses, which are common to co-exist with adolescent depression, such as ADHD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders.
  • Guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Indecision
  • Slow thinking
  • Headaches
  • Constipation


Symptoms of Anxiety

  • excessive and irrational worry for at least six months
  • excessive worry about school, relationships, career, college, and family life, a teen might be diagnosed with GAD
  • difficulty putting their finger on the source of anxiety, fear, or worry
  • experience of anxiety is persistent and chronic


Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

  • swing in moods from depression to mania.
  • manic episode can include euphoria, elation, racing thoughts, irritability, and substance use depressed episode can include decreased energy, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, and suicidal thoughts.
  • severe depression can lead to suicide
  • extreme mania can lead to substance abuse.
  • might engage in forms of self-harm, such as cutting
  • risky behavior as a way to take away their emotional pain and accelerate the highs


Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

Anorexia Nervosa

  • A refusal to maintain a body weight that is considered within a normal range for age and height.
  • An intense fear of gaining weight or being fat, even though the client is underweight.
  • There exists a disturbance in the way that the body is seen, such as a denial of the seriousness of a low body weight.
  • The absence of at least consecutive menstrual cycles.


Bulimia Nervosa

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, that is, eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time with a strong lack of control and feelings of not being able to stop eating.
  • Behavior that attempts to compensate for the overeating such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, frequent fasting, or excessive exercise.


Knowing the symptoms of the above listed disorders can help parents determine whether there might be a mental health problem. Of course, if there are any concerns, it’s best to immediately contact a mental health professional.