Teen Mental Health: What Parents Need to Know

Mental Illness Often Emerges in Adolescence

Be on the lookout for signs your teen may be struggling with a mental health issue.
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It can be scary to think of your teen developing a mental health issue. But, just like it's important to monitor your teen's physical health, it’s essential to keep a watchful eye on your teen’s mental health.

Mental health issues often emerge during the tumultuous teen years. Early intervention is one of the keys to successful treatment.

Prevalence of Mental Illness

Mental illness is fairly common among children and adolescents.

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. 

Having a mental illness doesn’t make a teen weak or crazy. Just like certain physical health problems can happen to anyone, so can many mental health problems. Unfortunately, mental illness sometimes carries a certain stigma that makes many teens and their parents hesitant to seek treatment.

Types of Mental Health Issues that Impact Teens

It's important for parents to know about the common mental health issues found in teens. Mood disorders, including several types of depression, often begin during childhood. There are also nine anxiety disorders that are prevalent among adolescents.

Behavioral disorders, like oppositional defiant disorder and ADHD may also become apparent during the teen years.

Anorexia and bulimia, are most common in females but males may also develop eating disorders.

Although psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, are possible during the teen years, these disorders usually don’t emerge until later in life.

Causes of Mental Illness

The environment plays a role in a child’s mental health.

  A teen who experienced sexual abuse or a major traumatic experience will be at a higher risk of mental illness, for example. A safe, stable environment can’t always protect a child from developing mental health issues, however.

Biology and genetics also factor into a child’s likelihood of developing mental health problems. Some children are genetically more vulnerable to mental illness than others. A family history of bipolar disorder, for example, can increase a teen’s risk of developing bipolar.

Co-morbid Substance Abuse Issues

Unfortunately, many teens with mental illness turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with their issues. They risk abusing or becoming dependent on alcohol, prescription drugs, street drugs, or even over-the-counter medications.

Teens struggling with a mental illness and substance abuse problem require specialized dual diagnosis treatment to help them find alternative ways to cope with their symptoms.

Dangers of Untreated Mental Illness

Unfortunately, as many as half of teens with mental illness go untreated, according to a 2013 study conducted by Duke University.

There are many reasons why teens don’t receive the mental health treatment they need.

Sometimes parents don’t recognize the need or don’t have the means to get their child treatment. At other times, teens refuse services. Unfortunately, some geographical areas lack adequate mental health providers as well.

There are many dangers of allowing a mental health condition to go untreated. Some teens may drop out of school due to difficulties with academics, while others may turn to substance abuse or crime. Suicide is also a major risk for teens who aren’t receiving appropriate mental health care.

There may be times in your teen’s life where his mental health appears better than others. Stress, hormonal changes, and other environmental issues can impact a teen’s mood and behavior.

Seek Help for Mental Health Problems

If you have concerns about your teen’s mental state, it’s important to address it. Often, short-term treatment with a qualified mental health professional can make a big difference in your teen’s quality of life.

Talk to your teen's doctor if you have concerns. A doctor can refer your teen for an evaluation with a qualified mental health professional. 

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