teenager woman sitting against wall
Published On: May 17, 2016|Categories: Teens & Children|

Parents of teenagers often grumble that moodiness underlines the behavior of their teen children. While all adolescents go through serious emotional growth in the teen years and much “angsty” or rebellious behavior can be considered normal, parents are often left wondering whether temperamental behavior is actually a sign of something more.

Teen mental health is a growing concern, and as more people become aware of how widespread psychiatric disorders are at this age, more support and resources can be directed toward vulnerable youth.

If you’re a parent or adult close to a teen who is expressing symptoms of distress, here’s what you need to know.

How common are teen mental health issues?

The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that almost half of all adolescents (children under the age of 18) have experienced a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. While these statistics seem staggering, there are a few important things to note.

First, children who experience mental health disorders are often able to overcome them. While some conditions remain for life, with the right treatment symptoms can be managed and normal life will be possible.

Moreover, many of the most severe issues that are caused by teen mental health can be prevented with the right interventions and support. If a teen in your life presents with psychological disorder warning signs, it’s time to get serious about addressing teen mental health issues.

What are common mental disorders in teens?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in adolescents from the ages of three to 17 include attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, behavior problems and depression. The following statistics demonstrate the prevalence of each.

  • 9.8 percent of children are diagnosed with ADHD
  • 9.4 percent of children are diagnosed with anxiety disorders
  • 8.9 percent of children are diagnosed with behavior problems
  • 4.4 percent of children are diagnosed with depression

Common mental health disorders in teens often overlap, too. A child who is diagnosed with depression may also struggle with anxiety, for example.

What are the symptoms of mental disorders in youth?

Symptoms of mental disorders in teens differ largely based on the disorder itself. In order to best examine the warning signs of conditions like depression, anxiety and other disorder, symptoms will be listed under a brief explanation of each mental health issue.


It’s common for teens to experience the ups and downs that come with social growth, academic stress and finding independence and identity. However, feeling chronically sad, angry, hopeless or irritable is a red flag. When these feelings linger for weeks or months without respite, look for other signs of depression.

Signs of depression in teens:

  • 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

Depression that is left untreated can result in severe behaviors, like self-harm and suicide. If you think your teen is exhibiting symptoms of the mental disorders listed above, meet with a doctor.


The pressures of daily life can bring stress to teens. Those who struggle to manage stress and feel constant worry may feel that it’s debilitating and preventing a normal life. If this is the case, an anxiety disorder may be at play.

There are several anxiety disorders your teen might struggle with, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social phobia. A medical or mental health professional can help you discern the presenting disorder, but they all have the following symptoms in common.

Signs of anxiety in teens:

  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet, dry mouth, dizziness, tight muscles
  • Fidgety behavior
  • Inability to stay calm
  • The overall feeling of uneasiness, panic or fear
  • Avoiding situations that provoke anxiety
  • Taking extreme measures to avoid potential distress
  • An inescapable feeling of worry

While anxiety is normally associated with shy teens, even those who are outgoing can suffer from anxiety.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is normally attributed to adults, but teens who have faced recent trauma or trauma in early childhood can also suffer the effects of PTSD. A teen who has experienced something horrific, like sexual abuse, a school shooting or a natural disaster may struggle to move on from the event and face symptoms that disrupt daily life.

Signs of PTSD in teens:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • 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
  • Negative mood
  • Hypervigilance, feeling on edge

The symptoms of mental disorders like PTSD are often treated with a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes and sometimes medication. Your doctor can collaborate with you and your teen on the best path to recovery.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders among teens, especially teen girls, are some of the most prevalent conditions. Eating disorders are also among the most life-threatening. If a teen in your life takes unhealthy measures to control calorie intake, weight or appearance he or she may be struggling with an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.

Teens who have eating disorders may self-induce vomiting, skip meals, use extreme weight loss measures (like laxatives) or exercise compulsively. Look for these other signs to spot an eating disorder.

Signs of eating disorders in teens:

  • Rarely eating meals or feeling uncomfortable when eating in front of people
  • Going to the restroom after eating to purge
  • Counting calories
  • Obsessing over food
  • Constant/daily weigh-ins
  • Frequent or intense exercise
  • Skipping meals
  • Making excuses to avoid eating
  • Having a distorted self-perception
  • Withdrawn socially
  • React strongly to criticism

Eating disorders can be extremely harmful and should receive immediate attention.

Spotting these common mental disorders in teens

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.

Get the help you need with The Light Program. Call now to learn more and set up your first appointment.

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