Mental health issues in teenagers are becoming a growing concern. Teens undergo a series of significant physical, emotional, and social changes, which can prove to be extremely challenging for certain young individuals. These issues often affect teenagers’ well-being, negatively impact their relationships with others, and make it harder for them to function properly in their daily lives.
It is important to note that mental health issues in teens are more prevalent than we assume them to be. As per the National Institute of Mental Health, one in every 5 teenagers suffers from some kind of mental illness in any given year. Anxiety and Depression are the two most widespread mental health illnesses. About 25% of teenagers report symptoms of Anxiety and 20% report symptoms of Depression.
Some mental health disorders may interfere with the patient’s ability to understand and articulate health concerns and adhere to the doctor’s recommended treatment. In females, these disorders and their treatments can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. This will lead to anovulatory cycles and other menstrual disturbances.
This highlights that there needs to be a significant shift in our focus from treatment to prevention and early intervention. The ray of hope lies in the fact that teens are capable of responding to treatment and intervention.
It is most important to identify mental health illness in a teen. Look for these signs:
Warning signs of mental illness in teens
For most kids, the first sign of mental illness is going to be a decline in grades. But there are other warnings as well.
- Any big change in social habits, like not wanting to go to school, meet friends or engage in activities that they once loved
- Persistent sadness for over 2 weeks
- Avoiding social interactions
- Inflict damage to self
- Repeated outbursts and irritation
- Dramatic changes in behaviour and personality
- Changes in eating habits or forming rituals around food
- Fluctuating weight
- Difficulties in sleeping and concentrating
These are strong signs of mental illness in teens and should be addressed as early as possible.
8 Most Common Mental Health Illness teens may develop
Listed below are the 8 most common Mental Health Disorders that teens develop:
Anxiety in itself is not an unhealthy emotion. It only becomes a problem when it happens frequently and excessively. These disorders are common among teens and hamper day-to-day activities and relationships. Brain chemistry, trauma, genetics and environmental factors are some of the common affecting factors. Other common triggers include academic pressure, social well-being, family issues and uncertainty about the future.
- Excessive worry, fear and irritation
- Not being able to concentrate
- Avoiding certain activities and situations.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 32% of adolescents are affected by anxiety disorders. About 8.3% of them have an anxiety disorder that is considered severe by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that anxiety disorders are more like to occur in girls than in boys. Anxiety has a prevalence of 38% in girls as compared to 26% in boys. Anxiety often co-occurs with other mental health issues, such as depression and substance abuse.
Major depression, also otherwise known as clinical depression, is a severe mental health concern that affects emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physical well-being. Genetics, abnormal brain functioning, stress, and isolation are some common triggers. The World Health Organization lists that major depression is the leading cause of disability in teens.
- Constant feelings of sadness
- Loss of hope
- Loss of interest in various activities that were fun earlier
- Feelings of guilt
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Poor decision-making
- Changes in diet
- Suicidal tendencies
The National Institute of Mental Health reported that 3.2 million adolescents had at least one incident of major depression. Females encounter major depression more than males, with a prevalence of 19.4% compared to 6.4%. Depression is the 2nd leading cause of suicides.
Though rare in children and adolescents, it generally onsets in the late teenage years and early adulthood. It affects how a person behaves, conceives of things, and feels. It impacts their social relationships, academics, and overarching well-being. A family history of Schizophrenia is a leading reason for development.
- Distorted thinking
- Distorted speech
- Lack of motivation
- Social withdrawal
- Impaired decision-making and cognitive functioning
Bipolar disorder or often referred to as manic depressive illness is a chronic disorder where an individual feels episodes of mania or hypomania. In simple terms, the existence of a highly unstable and irritating mood paired with excess activity and energy levels, engaging in risky activities, and delusion about their achievements and capabilities.
- Abnormally elevated moods
- Boosted energy levels
- Delusional beliefs about one’s abilities lead to more risk-taking
- Increased sexual desire
Panic disorder is a mental health condition where an individual suffers from a series of unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are episodes of intense panic and uneasiness, often followed by physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, chest pain and heart palpitations. Panic attacks can be extremely disturbing and affect the days that follow. The individual and his family always fear the possibility of another panic attack.
The exact reason for the development of panic disorder is not known. It is observed that family history, trauma and some innate characteristics (anxiety, neuroticism) are some causes.
- Recurring and unanticipated panic attacks
- Sweating and trembling during an attack
- Chest pain and heart palpitations
- Anticipatory anxiety of suffering a future panic attack
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet are signs to look out for
Social Anxiety Disorder
It is also referred to as social phobia. It is a condition where an individual avoids and fears social interactions. They fear being judged, are embarrassed and have difficulties in speaking and interacting on social occasions. They either completely avoid or have significant distress when attending such events.
- Feelings of Intense fear and nervousness in social encounters
- Problems in meeting and interacting with new people
- Uncomfortable eating in front of others
- Excessive self-consciousness
- Difficulty in making eye contact with others
- Fear of embarrassment
It is a mental health condition where an individual has an unhealthy relationship with food, body size and weight. Individuals suffering from an eating disorder may show abnormal behaviour around food and eating habits. They may eat abnormally large quantities of food and then feel guilty about it or eat nothing at all from the fear of growing fat.
Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa and Binge eating disorder are all eating disorders with different symptoms and treatments. Eating disorders cause serious physical and emotional consequences such as malnutrition, heart problems, depression and anxiety.
The reason for the development of eating disorders is not fully understood yet, but it is a combination of genetic, social, and psychological reasons.
- Significant gain or weight loss. Or fluctuating weight
- Obsession with body weight, body shape, size and appearance
- Ritualistic around food
- Avoiding meals, and certain types of food from the fear of gaining weight
- Using laxatives or diuretics to expel food
- Over-exercising until fatigue
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCD is a mental health condition that can occur at any age but is found to develop in early teenhood and can significantly impact their life and day-to-day functioning. Persistent, intrusive/distressing thoughts that result in either obsessions or compulsions around day-to-day things. Obsessions are impulses that instigate repetitive and ritualistic behaviours. Compulsions are mental acts that tell the brain to act a certain way to avoid anxiety and any kind of harm.
Symptoms of Obsessions
- Fear of germs and contamination
- Thoughts of extreme violence and aggression
- Obsessed with symmetry and order
- Experiencing unwanted religious and sexual feelings
Symptoms of Compulsions
- Repeated cleaning and washing hands
- Repeating certain words, checking things repeatedly, counting objects
- Repeat actions and body movements until they feel perfect
- Always arranging objects in symmetry or a certain way
- Having mental rituals like praying repeatedly
What causes mental health illness in teens
There are various causes of mental health illness in teens, and it is important to understand them so that you can identify, avert and treat them. The effect and impact may vary according to their personal life experiences.
The causes can be classified broadly into 2 categories.
Biological reasons for mental illness
Biological factors refer to anything physical that impacts a person’s mental health. Mental Illness has often found its roots in biological-based evidence. Any event that triggers neurotransmitters causes an imbalance in the release of chemicals resulting in mental illness.
There are three major ways in which genes contribute to mental illness.
- Genes govern all abnormalities in the brain. This can cause an adolescent to be diagnosed with schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s.
- Genes also govern abnormalities during the development of an adolescent. Chromosomal deletions and mutations can cause mental illness in teens.
- Teens with a first-degree relative who suffered from mental illness also carry the same genes. These genes make them more susceptible to mental health disorders.
The brain controls the entire body and is the hub of our central nervous system. Any kind of injury may lead to mental illness.
This is probably the most uncertain thing about mental illness. But research has shown signs of linkage to certain viruses and infectious diseases.
Damage in the womb
Any damage to the fetus may cause the child to develop a mental illness at some stage and to some degree. Significant stress to the mother or drug abuse by her may affect her child adversely.
Many studies have indicated that there is a link between drug abuse and mental illness. Alcohol has been linked to depression, while amphetamines are linked to anxiety.
Environmental reasons for mental illness
Unlike biological factors, environmental factors are things that teens have to go through and handle daily. Environmental reasons for mental illness are typically, at their core, a result of various kinds of stress.
Various common sources of stress in teens include:
- Trauma- physical, emotional or sexual
- Dysfunctiona environment at home, e.g. domestic violence
- Death of a loved one
- Unsafe environment- war-ridden, terrorism etc
- Chronic illness
- Natural disasters
- Unable to fit cultural and social norms
Any form of burden that generates stress makes the teen more susceptible to developing mental illness.
Mental health treatment for teens
The teen’s pediatrician or family physician can help with the diagnosis of mental illness in the teen and then suggest suitable mental health treatment options. His familiarity with the teen’s medical history will make it easier to diagnose. The diagnosis is made based on symptoms and the severity of the patient.
If the doctor isn’t comfortable or sure about making a diagnosis on their own, he may suggest some mental health professionals who can proceed with the treatment. If the condition is severe or involves substance abuse, they may recommend you for inpatient treatment at mental health facilities for teens.
Mental health is not only about responding to a problem. We must address and promote positive mental health resilience in our daily lives. At this crucial age, when a teen decides the direction of his personal, professional and social life, it is important to help them find time for self-care and maintain healthy habits. A healthy and positive environment at home, alongside proper upbringing, will act as scaffolding for their mental health.
To learn more, take a look at the slideshow below.
Slideshow created by TeenMentalHealth.org
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Vantage Point Recovery is a lifestyle management and recovery center in Thousand Oaks. We share mental health tips and other helpful information on the Vantage Point Recovery Blog. If you need help or support mental health awareness, please connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.