Moodiness and rebellion are part of the adolescent experience. Yet parents of teenagers often wonder if their teen’s behavior is “normal” or if they should address psychiatric therapy for their child.
Mental illness is more common than parents may realize: one in five teens between ages 13 and 18 experience a severe mental illness, and half of all chronic mental disorders start by age 14.
So how can parents tell if their child is struggling with a mental illness? Read about these four common types of mental health issues and how to recognize them.
Everyone experiences emotional ups and downs, but chronic feelings of sadness, anger, hopelessness or irritability lasting weeks or months is a red flag. Also, look for these common signs of depression:
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt (statements like, “I’m always messing everything up” or “Everyone hates me”)
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Lashing out
- Rebellious behavior
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Memory loss or forgetfulness
- Sleep changes (insomnia or excessive sleeping)
- Weight gain or loss
- Fatigue or unexplained aches and pains, including headaches and stomachaches
- Drug or alcohol use
- Thoughts and comments about death and dying
Teens have plenty to worry about in their daily life: the demands of school, sports, classes, friends. But when worry becomes chronic or debilitating, your child may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, such as:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): excessive, unrealistic worry, even when there’s seemingly nothing triggering the anxiety
- Panic Disorder: repeated sudden feelings of terror out of the blue, physical symptoms like heart palpitations
- Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia: feelings of worry and self-consciousness in everyday social situations like gym, lunch or school activities; fear of being teased or judged by peers
Signs and symptoms can vary depending on the anxiety disorder. Here are some general symptoms teens may experience:
- Cold or sweaty hands and feet, dry mouth, dizziness, tight muscles
- Fidgety behavior; inability to stay calm
- Overall feeling of uneasiness, panic or fear
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
While most people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with war veterans, it can happen to anyone, including teens. PTSD is brought on by an extremely traumatizing experience, like life-threatening situations or a person witnesses something horrific. Triggering events include:
- Rape or other violent assaults
- Sudden death of a loved one
- School shootings
- Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
- Auto accidents, fires, or natural disasters
- Ongoing traumatizing events, such as physical or sexual abuse
Teens suffering from PTSD may experience:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irritable or tense behaviors
- Trouble concentrating
- Detachment or emotional numbness
- Nightmares or flashbacks of the event
- Avoiding things, such as people or places, that remind them of the event
Eating disorders are prevalent among teens. More than half of teenage girls and almost one-third of teen boys take unhealthy measures to lose weight, such as vomiting, skipping meals, smoking cigarettes, and using laxatives. Up to 57 percent of teen girls use diet pills or laxatives to make themselves throw up or go on crash diets to lose weight.
The three main types of eating disorders are:
- Anorexia: irrational fear of weight gain, taking extreme measures to stay dangerously skinny
- Bulimia: cycles of eating and purging (by using laxatives or diuretics, vomiting, excessive exercise)
- Binge eating: eating large amounts of food very quickly but not purging; only about 35% of binge eaters are male
Signs of Eating Disorders:
- Physical signs include constipation, cavities or tooth enamel erosion, hair loss, dry skin, or rashes, and extreme changes in weight.
- Behavioral signs include excessive interest in exercise, obsessively counting calories, binging at meals, skipping meals, and distorted body image.
- Teens with eating disorders may be depressed, anxious, withdraw from friends, and react overly sensitively to criticism.
If you suspect signs of mental illness in your teen, schedule a doctor’s appointment or visit a counselor for a screening. With family support, counseling and other treatments, your child can get back on the path to feeling happy and healthy.