The Mental Health Risks for Male Adolescents

On the whole, male and female teens are at risk for the same physical and mental health concerns and yet adolescent males are far less likely to be seen by a mental health professional. The majority of teens who seek health care are females, who see physicians and mental health professionals for gynecological concerns, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or adjustment difficulties.


Yet, for males it’s different. Often, they do not wish to see a psychologist or therapist because they are hesitant to appear as having a weakness. Yet, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are illnesses that are appearing in higher numbers among male adolescents. Also, male teens are three times more likely to have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder than females. And, those male teens with untreated ADHD are likely to have significant problems at school, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder. These young males might experience truancy, drug or alcohol addiction, and conflicts with family and peers.


In addition to these psychological illnesses, a recent study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital indicated that male adolescents might be more at risk to eating disorders then previously thought. Researchers found that about 18% of male teens had extreme concerns about their weight and physique to the point that they were beginning to engage in risky behavior.  Another survey done in 2012 interviewed over 2,800 middle and high school teens and found that two thirds of boys changed their eating habits to increase their muscle size and tone.


Along those lines is the danger of steroids for male teens. For those athletic males, there might be a concern about maintaining performance, appearing muscular, and staying fit. This can often lead to the use of steroids or other drugs to maintain their own expectations on physique and performance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, five to twelve percent of male high school students and one percent of female high school students have used steroids before their senior year. Similar to the intent behind using steroids is a similar desire to use painkillers, which can enhance not only their male teen’s physical appearance but also their performance. Research indicates:


  • Male athletes used and misused opioid medications more often than males who did not participate in sports.
  • Male teens who participated in organized sports had 1.86 times higher odds of being prescribed an opioid medication, 10.5 times higher odds of taking too much of their prescribed opioid medication, and 4 times higher odds of using their prescribed medication to get high compared with male teens who were not athletes.


Of course, the use of drugs, whether they are steroids, opioids, or alcohol is that it can easily become a gateway to experimenting with other drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 7 out of 10 adolescents who are using opioids for non-medical purposes have combined opioids with other drugs and/or alcohol in the last year.


  • Teens who reported taking opioids with other drugs were 8 times more likely to report abusing marijuana than non-users of opioids.
  • Teens who reported taking opioids with other drugs were 4 times more likely to report being drunk than non-users of opioids.
  • 24% of teens reported that they usually or always combined the non-medical use of opioids with marijuana.
  • 15% of teens reported that they usually or always combined the non-medical use of opioids with alcohol.


Male teens are a segment of the population that can easily become underserved. Part of this is that male teens are on the whole a physically and emotionally healthy group. However, when there are problems, they can be significant ones, and it is important that they get the professional support they need. Because male adolescents are less likely to voice their concerns on their own, it’s important for parents, teachers, and other caregivers to be communicative with medical and psychological professionals.




Westwood, M. (January 2008). Adolescent Male Health. Pediatric Child Health. 13(1): 31–36.