If you’re the parent of a teenager, you’ve probably wondered whether your teen is displaying signs of a mental health disorder or whether the behaviors you’ve noticed are just typical of that age.
The teenage years are fraught with growing personalities, friendship drama, dating troubles, hormonal changes and severe shifts in mood. It’s no surprise that your child’s emotional health has fluctuated with all the stress and changes that happen during this period of life.
As a parent, you’re looking for clear information to help your child, and this article can guide you through this sensitive process. Here, we’ll look at the most common teen mental health issues and how to recognize the difference between normal teenage behavior and clinically significant concerns.
Common teen mental health issues
A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with 10,123 participants between the ages of 13 and 18 set out to determine the prevalence of mental health disorders (diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), their co-occurring disorders and factors that were linked to each disorder.
The study found the following rates of teen mental health issues.
- 31.9 percent of adolescents had anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder)
- 19.1 percent of adolescents had behavior disorders (attention deficit hyperactive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, eating disorders)
- 14.3 percent had mood disorders (depression bipolar disorder)
- 11.4 percent had substance use disorders
Moreover, within these categories the survey collected data on those whose conditions caused severe impairment. Between 20 and 25 percent of youth are affected by a mental health disorder that will cause significant functional impairments during the course of their lifetime.
If you think your teen is struggling with a mental health condition, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what condition you think your child may be afflicted by. You can read an overview of the most common psychological disorders by the National Alliance on Mental Illness here.
Signs of mental health issues
Each mental health disorder has unique diagnostic criteria, meaning there’s no single method or test you can use to determine if your teen has a mental health disorder in general. Only a personalized evaluation by a trained professional can tell you if a teen mental health issue is present, and which one.
However, here are some signs of teen mental health issues that can alert you it’s time to make an appointment.
- Persistent sadness
- Depressed mood
- No interest in activities that were previously enjoyable
- Change in sleep habits (insomnia, significant oversleeping)
- Changes in appetite
- Inability to gain weight
- Abrupt change in social groups
- Poor academic performance or significant change
- Expressing hopelessness about the future
- Making no plans for the future
- Having a low self-image
- Consistent irritability
- Avoiding friends and family
- Feeling excessive worry or fear
- Inability to concentrate
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Inability to self-motivate
- Extreme feelings of guilt or fear
- Ruminating thoughts
- Increasingly risky behavior (stealing, cheating, driving under the influence)
- Struggling to maintain close relationships
- Frequently feeling nauseous
- Expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Your child’s doctor or therapist is qualified to make a diagnosis based on presenting behaviors and observations. Don’t worry about trying to make a verdict on your own. A professional opinion is the most accurate and safe choice.
Knowing the difference
The above symptoms of teen mental health issues may still seem too vague to say for certain whether a disorder is at play. Additionally, it can seem like many of them are present even in teens without mental health conditions. How can a parent know the difference?
The first response to that question is that you’re not supposed to know the difference, and you shouldn’t diagnose your teen. However, you’ll still want to know how to tell if intervention is necessary. The key is to gauge whether the above signs have disrupted normal, daily functioning for your teen.
Has a depressed mood kept your son from attending soccer games? Or does poor concentration keep your daughter from performing at her ability level in school? If your teen is capable of completing normal tasks in school, relationships or daily life but is impeded by mental health symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment with a mental health professional.
Where to turn
The Light Program can provide a mental health diagnosis for the teen in your life. With therapeutic programs specifically designed for adolescents, you’ll find the compassionate and professional care you’ve been looking for at the right age level.
With teletherapy and in-person options available, your teen can find hope and healing. Call now to schedule an appointment.