Deciphering Adolescent Mental Health: Signs and Considerations

Written by Miranda Forbes Sep 19, 2023 Uncategorized

As a parent of a teenager, you’ve likely pondered whether the behaviors you observe in your child are indicative of a mental health disorder or simply part of the tumultuous teenage years. Adolescence is a phase characterized by evolving personalities, friendship dynamics, dating challenges, hormonal shifts, and pronounced mood swings. It’s natural for your teen’s emotional well-being to ebb and flow amidst the stressors and transformations that define this life stage.

As you seek clear guidance to aid your child, this article aims to assist you in this delicate journey. Here, we delve into prevalent mental health concerns among teenagers and equip you with the discernment to differentiate between customary teenage behavior and clinically significant issues.

Common Mental Health Concerns in Teens

A comprehensive study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, encompassing 10,123 participants aged 13 to 18, sought to gauge the prevalence of mental health disorders. These disorders, diagnosed through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, were explored alongside co-occurring conditions and associated factors.

The study yielded the following insights into rates of mental health issues among teens:

  • Approximately 31.9 percent of adolescents experienced anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • About 19.1 percent grappled with behavior disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, and eating disorders.
  • Roughly 14.3 percent faced mood disorders, encompassing depression and bipolar disorder.
  • Around 11.4 percent contended with substance use disorders.

Furthermore, the survey delved into conditions causing significant impairment within these categories. Disturbingly, between 20 and 25 percent of young individuals are affected by mental health disorders that substantially hinder their daily functioning over the course of their lives.

If you suspect that your teen is wrestling with a mental health condition, obtaining a fundamental grasp of the possible disorders is crucial. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides an overview of the most prevalent psychological disorders, aiding you in better understanding the landscape.

Recognizing Signs of Mental Health Issues

Diagnostic criteria for each mental health disorder differ significantly, rendering a single method or test inadequate for identifying a teen’s potential mental health condition. Only a personalized assessment by a trained expert can determine the presence of a teen mental health issue and its specific nature.

However, several signs may serve as indicators of potential mental health concerns in your teen, prompting you to consider seeking professional guidance:

  • Prolonged sadness
  • Persistent depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Alterations in sleep patterns (insomnia or excessive sleep)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Inability to gain weight
  • Sudden shifts in social circles
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Deterioration in academic performance or significant change
  • Expressing hopelessness about the future
  • Lack of future plans
  • Low self-esteem
  • Consistent irritability
  • Avoidance of friends and family
  • Overwhelming worry or fear
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Substance abuse
  • Apathy towards self-motivation
  • Intense feelings of guilt or fear
  • Persistent rumination
  • Engaging in increasingly risky behaviors (theft, deceit, driving under the influence)
  • Heightened vigilance
  • Struggles in maintaining close relationships
  • Frequent nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Apathetic demeanor
  • Verbalizing thoughts of suicide or self-destructive behaviors

Your child’s physician or therapist possesses the expertise to diagnose based on observed behaviors and assessments. It is advisable to avoid attempting a self-diagnosis, as a professional evaluation offers the most precise and secure route.

Distinguishing the Distinctive Traits

The aforementioned symptoms might still appear nebulous in definitively determining the presence of a disorder. Moreover, many of these signs may surface in teenagers devoid of mental health conditions. The question arises: How can a parent ascertain the difference?

Primarily, it’s important to acknowledge that you need not be the one to make such distinctions, and self-diagnosis should be avoided. Nevertheless, discerning whether intervention is warranted is vital. The key lies in evaluating whether the aforementioned signs have disrupted your teen’s normal daily functioning.

Has a sense of despondency caused your son to forego soccer games? Or has your daughter’s waning concentration impacted her scholastic performance? If your teen can typically manage everyday tasks in school, relationships, and daily life, yet struggles due to mental health symptoms, the time has come to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional.