A Guide to Common Mental Health Issues in Teenagers
Mental illness in adolescents is on the rise. The commonly diagnosed mental disorders among children are ADHD, behavior problems, anxiety, and depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- One in 6 children aged 2 to 8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder
- Depression and anxiety among young children increased 3% from 2003 to 2012
- 9.4% of children have received an ADHD diagnosis
- 7.4% of children have a diagnosed behavior problem
- 7.1% of children have diagnosed anxiety
- 3.2% of children have diagnosed depression
The CDC describes mental disorders among children as serious changes in the way children learn, behave, or handle their emotions. Unfortunately, mental health issues in adolescents can be difficult to identify because of the typical hormonal shifts in behavior and personality that occur during puberty. However, it is crucial for parents to be able to correctly identify problems, to get teens the support they need.
Undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorders in adolescents can cause a range of problems that persist into adulthood. These problems can impact school performance or physical health. They may even lead to addictive behaviors.
Nearly 1 in 3 adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can cause children to be extremely scared of daily life. They can affect kids of all types. Teen anxiety can have many causes:
- High expectations and pressure to succeed
- Watching the news
- School safety drills and lockdowns
- Interactions on social media
Three kinds of anxiety disorder are common among teenagers:
People with anxiety disorders often avoid talking about their problems. They feel that other people would not understand. Scientists are still unsure of the causes of anxiety disorders. However, there are treatments and coping mechanisms that can help a teen living with anxiety:
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders. An estimated 3.2 million young adults have had at least one depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). A major depressive episode is a period of at least 2 weeks where the person had a depressed mood along with most of the following symptoms:
Studies from Harvard have shown that there are many possible causes of depression, including:
Depression can be hard to treat, as it can severely affect energy levels and mood. However, there are many treatments and coping mechanisms that are proven to be helpful, like:
Substance use disorders
In 2017, 9% of high school students admitted that they smoked at least one cigarette a day. The same study also stated that 30% of high schoolers reported they had had at least one drink within the past 30 days. Unhealthy patterns of substance use can include using illegal substances or using legal substances in harmful ways (e.g., too much or too often). The substances most commonly used among teenagers include the following:
Substance use disorder can have major effects on a teen’s body and brain, such as:
Teens hide their substance use from their parents and pediatricians. This makes substance use hard to diagnose and harder to treat. Teens experiment with drugs mostly in social settings, when their parents are not watching. However, parents can often notice signs that could suggest a possible substance use disorder:
If you or your teen is suffering from substance use disorder, it is important to contact a doctor to discuss rehabilitative treatment options.
Eating disorders can cause serious problems in adolescents. One study found that 2.7% of teenagers have already had a diagnosis of an eating disorder. The NIMH warns that eating disorders are typically accompanied by anxiety, mood disorders, impulse control disorders, and substance use disorder. Three eating disorders are common among teens:
Unfortunately, it is common for young people to feel uncomfortable with their bodies. Puberty and hormones are just a couple of reasons why adolescents have a hard time controlling their weight. During adolescence, eating disorders are more common in females than in males. Signs of an eating disorder might include the following:
If an adolescent shows signs of an eating disorder, there are general steps to take:
Borderline personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a condition in which the person has intense and unstable emotions, unstable relationships, and an unstable sense of identity. Of course, adolescence is a period of transition. Some emotional instability and questioning of identity are normal in adolescence. Thus, many experts feel that the diagnosis of BPD should not be made for patients younger than 18. However, the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) discusses BPD diagnosis in children as young as 13. Hopefully, earlier diagnosis could lead to better treatment for this serious condition.
The symptoms of BPD include:
While teenagers and adults with BPD may experience the same symptoms, teens may express them differently. BPD is treated mainly with psychotherapy; however, medication can be added. There is also a chance of hospitalization if a doctor deems it necessary. Luckily, more and more therapists are aware of BPD, its symptoms, and how to treat it.
Other mental health conditions
There are also less common mental health disorders teens may experience. These include:
A diagnosis of a mental health problem is not always a bad thing. Diagnosis can be the first step toward solving problems. The diagnosis itself shouldn’t hold anyone back from common life milestones, like marriage or pursuing a career. However, it is crucial for these disorders to be diagnosed correctly and as soon as possible, so that treatment can be discussed and teens can go on to live full and healthy lives.