Warning Signs of Teen Mental Health Problems

Stressed Schoolboy with Head in HandsThe adolescent years are tough for families. Teens struggle with physical changes, peer pressure, demands on their time, emotional ups and downs, and performance anxiety. All teens must face these difficulties, but how they handle the stress can range significantly among teens. Worry is a fairly natural reaction, but if your teen is feeling frequently sad, hopeless or worthless, these could be warning signs of a mental health problem. Approximately 21% of children between the ages of 9 and 17 have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder that causes at least minimal impairment, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. About half of all mental illness starts by the age of 14.

If you are a parent or other caregiver of a teenager, pay attention if your teen:

Is troubled by feeling:

  • very angry most of the time, cries a lot or overreacts to things;
  • worthless or guilty a lot;
  • anxious or worried a lot more than other young people;
  • grief for a long time after a loss or death;
  • extremely fearful – has unexplained fears or more fears than most kids;
  • constantly concerned about physical problems or appearance;
  • frightened that his or her mind is controlled or is out of control.


Experiences big changes, for example:

  • loses interest in things usually enjoyed;
  • does much worse in school;
  • has unexplained changes in sleeping or eating habits;
  • avoids friends or family and wants to be alone all the time;
  • daydreams too much and can’t get things done;
  • feels life is too hard to handle or talks about suicide;
  • hears voices that cannot be explained.


Is limited by:

  • poor concentration; can’t make decisions;
  • inability to sit still or focus attention;
  • worry about being harmed, hurting others, or about doing something “bad”;
  • the need to wash, clean things, or perform certain routines dozens of times a day;
  • thoughts that race almost too fast to follow;
  • persistent nightmares.


Behaves in ways that cause problems, for-example:

  • uses alcohol or other drugs;
  • eats large amounts of food and then forces vomiting, abuses laxatives, or takes enemas to avoid weight gain;
  • continues to diet or exercise obsessively although bone-thin;
  • often hurts other people, destroys property, or breaks the law;
  • does things that can be life threatening.


To find help, discuss your concerns with your teen’s teacher, guidance counselor or others such as a family doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker.

These tips were reproduced from the SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Information Center.

Leave a Reply