Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Teens and Mental Health: Watch for Red Flags

March 15, 2023

Oh, the door-slamming, dramatic yelling, eye-rolling, temperamental days of adolescence—we’ve all lived them and now have the honor of watching (or raising) the generations after us experience the same. With hormones surging through their ever-changing bodies, it’s no wonder that teens are notoriously moody and challenging at times. Even though it may feel as though the once equable child has been replaced overnight with a snapping turtle with acne, it’s important to recognize which behaviors (and how long they last) are common mood swings and which are indications of a deeper issue.

Believe it or not, teens have a lot on their plate. Between overcoming the rollercoaster of emotional, hormonal, and physical changes, teens must also maneuver around tricky social pressures, bullying, relationships, and academics and begin to make life-changing decisions regarding their future. As a parent, friend, or loved one, finding a way to navigate the twists and turns in the road towards adulthood can prove to be quite daunting. One is forced to find the middle ground between a world that’s surely ending and realizing that the moment, like any other, is transitional and temporary. As hard as it can be, it is essential to establish an open, unrestricted flow of communication.

Teens Today are Experiencing More Mental Health Issues

With more and more awareness of just how fundamentally important mental health is to our overall being, it’s no surprise that the focus on teen mental health is being taken more seriously now than in previous generations. All adolescents will experience some level of anxiety, depression, and stress, but studies show that in these uncertain times, teens are experiencing more and more mental health issues that extend beyond the standard teenage angst. For many teenagers, these sentiments can be underlying symptoms of a variety of mental health disorders; all are matters of concern, and some can be life-threatening.

Approximately 10-20% of Children & Adolescents are Struggling

Approximately 10 - 20% of children and adolescents worldwide struggle with a mental disorder. Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, and three-quarters by their mid-20s (World Health Organization, 2021). When untreated and unnoticed, these conditions can have a severe impact on academic performance, social lives, and overall quality of life for teens. It is also important to note that adolescents suffering from mental illness are especially vulnerable to social outcomes such as higher alcohol, tobacco, and illicit substance abuse, adolescent pregnancy, a higher risk of school dropout, and an increase in delinquent behaviors. Although we now understand that a degree of genetic information makes certain people more likely to develop a mental illness, early recognition of the symptoms can help lead to early intervention and treatment, which can be critical for generating positive outcomes.

Red Flags to Watch Out For:

It takes a village to raise a child; generally speaking, the more caring eyes a child has on them, the safer they are. Teens can be difficult to communicate with, and many feel uncomfortable speaking to a parent about topics that can be embarrassing, frustrating, or scary. Concerned parents should be aware that some of the signs or behaviors a teen displays are outside of the scope of what could be considered normal behavior. Displaying one or a combination of these signs is not a diagnosis in and of itself, but behaviors should be closely monitored for any patterns, increases, or decreases, as they may be indications that a consultation with a mental health professional is needed.

  • Excessive sleeping or extreme fatigue beyond usual teenage fatigue could be an indication of depression. Keep in mind the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teens aged 13-18 sleep 8-10 hours per 24 hours
  • Low or non-existent self-esteem
  • Abandonment or loss of interest in favorite pastimes
  • Unexpected and dramatic decline in academic performance
  • Considerable weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Personality shifts and changes, such as aggressiveness and excess anger that are sharply out of character
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Unexpected weeping or excessive moodiness
  • Eating habits that result in noticeable weight loss or gain in short periods of time
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Paranoia and excessive secrecy
  • Self-mutilation, or mention of hurting himself or herself
  • Obsessive body-image concerns
  • Excessive isolation
  • Abandonment of friends and social groups

Reach out to a professional for guidance and a possible treatment plan if you see any of these symptoms/behaviors in a teen that you know.

Reprinted with permission from the American Counseling Association's Counseling Corner Blog, March 2021.