Mental health conditions affect your emotions, thinking, behavior, and self-image, impacting your daily life. In the past, a common attitude was that people needed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or just get on with it. However, mental health disorders should be taken as seriously as physical illnesses because they can be just as damaging, particularly if left untreated.
Globally, mental health disorders are common among teenagers, with one in seven young people aged between ten and 19 experiencing mental illness, according to research shared by the United Nations. The same research shows that suicide is the fourth highest cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. It is therefore important for adolescent mental health conditions to receive appropriate treatment so that people can go on to thrive in young adulthood.
If you are wondering whether you or a loved one has a mental health problem, read on. This blog outlines some common mental health disorders found among teens. It covers symptoms as well as techniques and treatments that can help. Struggling with one or more mental health disorders can make you feel like life is nothing but difficulties. Rest assured that you are not alone in your situation and there is treatment available for you.
Risk Factors and Reasons for Teen Mental Disorders
There are risk factors that make adolescent mental health issues more likely.
- Genetics – a family history of mental health disorders
- Stress – prolonged stress can lead to a mental disorder
- Trauma – such as neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual violence
- Questioning sexual and gender identities – LGBTQIA+ adolescents are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression and more than four times as likely to attempt suicide. Forty percent of transgender people attempt suicide in their lives.
- Problems at home – e.g. parental substance abuse, divorce, and arguing among parents or siblings
- Social media – can lead to trouble sleeping, problems with body image, cyberbullying, and poor self-esteem
- Physical health problems – particularly chronic health problems
- Substance abuse – can worsen or cause anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions.
- Problems at school – e.g. bullying, not fitting in, or changing schools
Mental health problems can also be triggered by significant losses such as the death of a loved one or a major rejection. Teens who are predisposed to mental illness are more likely to develop a mental health disorder as a result of a major life event.
Common Mental Health Disorders
The sections below discuss some of the most common mental health issues among teenagers. Here you will read about the common symptoms of each disorder as well as ways to manage symptoms. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from one of these mental health conditions you should seek advice or treatment from mental health professionals.
An anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worry that continues for at least six months on more days than not. Having an anxiety disorder is not the same as suffering from worry brought about by a deadline or a presentation. With anxiety, there may be no particular thing you are anxious about, or you may get anxious about small things which do not normally cause you upset. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists six symptoms of anxiety disorders. Anxiety is a diagnosable mental health disorder based on these:
- difficulty concentrating
- muscle tension
- trouble sleeping.
If you feel that you are suffering from excessive anxiety you should seek support from a mental health professional. Talking therapies and medication such as benzodiazepines or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically used to treat anxiety disorders.
Depression is characterized by low mood and a lack of motivation. While it is normal to be sad at times, for example when you experience a loss or a break-up, depression is not the same as simply feeling low in immediate response to an event. With depression, the depressed mood can last for two weeks or for longer.
The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 17 percent (4.1 million) of adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the US have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year.
Signs of depression include:
- low mood that lasts at least two weeks
- lack of motivation
- losing interest in activities once enjoyed
- feelings of worthlessness
- excessive regret
- excessive fear
Depression can be treated with therapy and if this does not work it is common to use medications such as selective SSRIs. People who do not respond to these methods may also receive a non-invasive treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Warning Signs of Suicide
While most people who suffer from depression do not attempt suicide, it is a risk. It is important to know the warning signs of suicide so that you can help someone in need.
- Expressing hopelessness
- Big mood changes
- Risky or destructive behavior
- Neglecting personal appearance
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Speaking about death
- Increased substance use
Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder are characterized by abnormal eating that affects physical and mental health and the ability to function in daily life. In America, 2.7 percent of 13 to 18-year-olds suffer from an eating disorder at some point and they are more than twice as likely in girls than boys.
The following are signs of an eating disorder.
- Frequent dieting
- Skipping meals or not eating much, or eating unusually large amounts of food
- Eating alone or in secret
- Refusing to eat certain foods
- Changes in body weight
- Food rituals such as excessive chewing
- Concerns about weight
- Discomfort eating around others
- Social withdrawing
- Low self-esteem
- Irregular periods
- Dizziness and fainting
You might think that you can recognize if someone has an eating disorder by looking at their weight, but a person of any size can have an eating disorder, even an athlete. Examples of eating disorders include binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa.
In the long run eating disorders can cause damage to your teeth, bones, heart, digestive system, and mouth. It is important to visit a mental health professional to seek early intervention for eating disorders as soon as possible. Treatment for eating disorders includes therapy, nutrition education, and medical monitoring. Some people may need to be hospitalized or take part in an inpatient treatment program.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a developmental condition that causes people to experience difficulties with regulating attention. Almost 13 percent, or 3.3 million, of adolescents aged 12 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD according to data from 2016 to 2019.
The following are symptoms of ADHD.
- Difficulties with organization
- Easily distracted and has difficulty paying attention
- Poor concentration
There are ways to manage some of the issues caused by ADHD. Teens may be helped by daily scheduling, list making, and taking part in activities that stimulate them. Many teenagers will also be prescribed medication such as Adderall.
Medical professionals disagree about whether ADHD should be considered a mental health issue. However, ADHD often occurs alongside an anxiety disorder, which makes it very important to look out for the signs from a mental health perspective.
Borderline personality disorder can affect thinking, impulse control, emotions, and relationships with others. A person with this mental health condition may have to cope with intense negative emotions throughout the day and night.
Borderline personality disorder affects each person differently, but symptoms can include:
- inability to regulate emotions
- impulsive or extremely restrictive behavior
- problems making and maintaining relationships
- major mood changes
- lack of a sense of self
- fear of abandonment
- self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
Some people will experience constant symptoms while others may have intermittent periods where they experience relative calm. Borderline personality disorder is often treated with therapy, which helps the person to manage their thoughts and emotions.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that people are born with. It shapes how a person thinks and relates to the world. Autism is not a mental illness but it can be a source of distress to teenagers when other people misunderstand them.
- Persistent difficulties in social communication and interaction
- Repetitive patterns of behavior and restricted interests
- Sensitivity to sensory input such as smells, sounds, or touch
Since autism appears differently in everyone, it can be difficult to detect. This is also because many people will mask their behavior to fit in. Masking can be damaging because it takes a lot of energy, leading to meltdowns, burnout, and consequences for mental health. If you are autistic it is important to accept yourself for who you are.
Since autism is broad it can help to get an official diagnosis and to learn about it to understand how to manage any issues that arise.
Bipolar is characterized by fluctuations in mood, energy, and ability to function. A person with bipolar can experience highs and lows of emotion. It is estimated that 2.9 percent of adolescents aged between 13 and 18 have this mental disorder.
The highs of emotion are commonly described as mania. Symptoms of manic episodes include:
- feeling wired
- agitation and irritability
- problems sleeping
- speaking quickly
- racing thoughts
- impulsive behavior.
The depressive symptoms of bipolar are the same as those described for depression. Many people with bipolar are misdiagnosed with depression. It is important that you make your doctor aware of any symptoms of mania if you believe that they have not asked you about this. When people with bipolar are treated with antidepressants this can be dangerous. It can cause rapid cycling between depressive and manic episodes.
Most people with bipolar disorder are treated with medication that helps to stabilize their mood. Medication includes lithium and antidepressants paired with mood stabilizers or antipsychotic medication.
Potential Consequences of Undiagnosed Mental Health Disorders
Undiagnosed mental illnesses can lead to long-term consequences that make treatment more complicated. Some people who do not receive appropriate treatment for conditions such as major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder will self-medicate through alcohol abuse.
Drugs are also a significant problem. Overdose deaths among US adolescents have risen dramatically over the last three years, jumping from 492 in 2019 to 954 in 2020, and to 1146 in 2022, according to provisional data. It is therefore important to make sure that teenagers are getting the support they need.
General Signs of Teen Mental Disorders to Look Out For
You should always get professional help if you or a loved one has a mental health problem that is affecting day-to-day life and is not improving. You do not need to know what your mental health disorder is to seek support for it; it is the job of medical professionals to provide an accurate diagnosis. Below are some general symptoms that could be related to a number of mental health conditions.
- Low energy
- Frequently stressed or anxious
- Frequently have headaches or stomachaches with no physical explanation
- Cannot sit still
- Social withdrawal
- Risky behavior
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Poor performance at school
Managing Mental Health Disorders
Teen mental disorders can be damaging to development but there are treatments to make sure the young person will go on to live a happy and healthy life. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides extensive information about mental health disorders. These resources aim to improve the quality and availability of treatment for mental illness.
There are also ways that you can help as a family. Providing teenagers with stability and support will encourage them to share whether they are experiencing the symptoms of a mental health problem. If your teenager is unwell, the way you can support them is by understanding their disorder and the treatment available.
Get Help for a Mental Health Disorder Today
At Clearfork Academy we treat teenagers who are suffering from mental health and substance abuse problems. We believe that a community and family environment is important and therefore allow families to join at the weekend. We also offer intensive outpatient treatment for those who do not need or cannot take part in residential care.
If you are suffering from a co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder, getting treatment is particularly important as there are additional complexities that come with a dual diagnosis.
Our treatment options for teen mental disorders include:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy including three-day family intensive workshops
- Life skills curriculum
- Outdoor activities such as equine therapy, fitness obstacle course, and paddle boats
Please feel free to visit our website or call us at (866) 650-5212. We would love to welcome you to our center. This is where you can start your journey to recovery.