It's not easy to identify mental illness in another person.
Even in adults, it's difficult to know where to draw the line between strange behavior and mental illness.
This is even more true in teenagers. Many parents find themselves wondering "do I have an out-of-control teenager or is this a mental health condition?"
First of all, you aren't alone. The fact that you're here reading this now shows that you are ready to do whatever it takes to get your teen the help he or she might need.
In order to do that, it's important to understand the signs of mental illness versus "normal" (strange or rebellious) teenage behavior. It's also crucial to know where and how to find appropriate treatment.
Just like adults, teens with mental health issues require individualized and comprehensive mental health treatment from qualified professionals.
Teen Mental Health: Out-of-Control Teenager or Mental Health Condition?
It's beyond important that you're taking this first step to better understand your teen's mental health.
Many mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder begin to show themselves in adolescence. Unfortunately, many parents may write-off these symptoms and assume they just have an out-of-control teenager on their hands.
This means many teens suffer through mental illnesses into their adulthood without any professional help. Untreated mental health conditions in teens can manifest years down the road in many ways such as:
- Substance use disorder
- Becoming the victim of a violent crime
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Homelessness or incarceration
80% of children with anxiety and 60% of children with depression are left untreated at any given time. Remember that your teen will become an adult one day and that even 60% of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment each year.
Not Normal Teenage Behavior: Common Mental Health Disorders in Teens
Some disorders like schizophrenia don't appear until a person's mid-twenties while others like anxiety or depression may show signs in late childhood.
The disorders below often first begin to show symptoms in late childhood through adolescence. These are the most common mental health disorders in teens according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Anxiety disorders: Feelings of restlessness and stress that do not dissipate over time.
- Depressive disorders: Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness that last more than two weeks.
- Autism spectrum disorders: Ongoing problems with communicating.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Trouble coping after a traumatic event.
- Disruptive mood regulation disorder: Episodes of extreme irritability and outbursts.
- Eating disorders: Not eating, throwing up after meals, binge eating
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Inability to focus on daily tasks.
- Substance use disorder: Regular use of alcohol or drugs.
Risk Factors for Mental Illness in Teens
It's difficult to pinpoint specific risk factors for mental illness in teens because each condition comes with its own set of risk factors. PTSD, for example, would include experiencing a traumatic event.
The only constant seems to be having a family history of mental illness. As a result, it's much more important to look at your teen's behavior and emotions objectively (yes, much easier said than done).
Red Flags and Signs of Mental Illness in Teenagers
You should keep an eye out for symptoms that disappear and return every few months or so. Conditions like depression often occur for a few months, subside, and return again.
You'll also want to make sure your teen's school work or daily life is not affected by these symptoms. If he or she is missing several school days, skipping school, or performing poorly, this could indicate mental illness rather than simply an out-of-control teenager.
Unfortunately, many parents are quick to identify poor school performance or anger as misbehavior or normal teenage behavior rather than mental illness. It's important to be reassuring and comforting if you suspect your teen may be suffering from a mental health condition.
It's normal for teens to be overly emotional or experience bursts of anger occasionally. In general, you want to look for any symptoms that last more than two weeks.
- Severely overreacting to nearly every situation
- Extreme irritability virtually all the time
- Isolating themselves and withdrawing from friends
- Insomnia and sleeping problems like nightmares
- Can't sit still or focus. Constant fidgeting
- Physical complaints like stomach pains or headaches without explanation
- Avoiding certain places or people (due to previous trauma)
- Self-harm like cutting, hair pulling, or picking
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Substance use including drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes
- Doesn't seem in control of his or her actions
- Self-destructive, dangerous, or risky behavior like car chases or unprotected sex
- Always worried or anxious
- Violent or abusive behavior towards others including friends or partners
How to Find Treatment for Teens with Mental Health Conditions
The first step is to provide a non-judgmental ear. This can be difficult if your teen is constantly lashing out at you. Still, this is what he or she needs most first and foremost.
If you don't think you're the best person for the job, find an adult you (and your teen) can trust to take the first step. Find someone they are comfortable talking to.
From there, you can decide together which type of treatment your teen needs. Just like adults, teen mental health conditions require comprehensive and personalized care. This might include any of the following depending on his or her specific condition.
- A safe, structured, and supportive environment with well-trained staff
- Medical detox from drugs or alcohol (if necessary)
- Family therapy for integrated recovery
- Group therapy to recover with others going through similar experiences
- Medication management (if necessary)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy to manage thoughts and actions
- Cognitive processing therapy to manage unpleasant thoughts after trauma and stress
Teen mental health illnesses are just that: illnesses. Recovery is possible, and it happens every day.
San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital is Here to Help
San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital understands that teens require attentive and personalized care in a comfortable environment.
Our adolescent mental health programs include comprehensive treatment with a variety of individualized methods. We offer partial hospitalization and inpatient programs to provide structured care and support for teens between the ages of 9 and 17.
If your teen or a loved one is experiencing substance abuse, depression, PTSD, anxiety, or any other mental health conditions, contact San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital today or call for a confidential assessment at 210.541.5350.