Adolescence, the age from 10 to19 years, is a crucial time for any child’s development. They form social and emotional habits during this period that are important for their mental well-being. In their teenage years, children require a protective and supportive environment at home, school, and the community to develop necessary coping, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills, among others.
Here, you will learn about what mental health is, common mental illnesses prevalent among teenagers, warning signs to watch out for, and more.
What is mental health, and what are mental health disorders?
Mental health generally refers to the emotional and psychological condition of an individual. The term is fluid and is often used to discuss a positive state of mental well-being, the absence of mental illnesses, or the presence of mental imbalances affecting overall well-being. Mental health is also defined as a state of successful mental functioning that helps you cultivate fulfilling relationships with others, perform productive activities, cope with adversity, and adapt to changes.
The mental health spectrum ranges from mental well-being to clinically diagnosed mental health illnesses. Mental well-being is defined as a state that allows an individual to realise their potential, cope with everyday stresses effectively, socialise with others, and work or study productively. It is important to note that mental well-being is not just the absence of mental illnesses.
Difficulties or problems with one’s mental health are quite common in teenagers, as they are learning to navigate different parts of their lives. These difficulties are ways of thinking, behaving, and feeling that have a negative impact on the teenager’s quality of life and may hamper their development. Mental health disorders are more severe in nature and have a serious impact on the life of an individual. In worst-case scenarios, mental illnesses lead to the teenager committing suicide. Thus, if you are worried about your friend, child, or sibling, it is better to seek help and rule out any mental illnesses.
Teenagers experience a rollercoaster of intense feelings and psychological highs and lows, which is a normal and healthy part of being a teenager. However, the development of essential coping mechanisms and other healthy emotional habits is essential for safeguarding the mental health in young adults.
Many mental health disorders of adulthood begin in childhood or adolescence. Studies reveal that one in every five young adults has mental health problems of varying severity. Most mental health disorders don’t manifest suddenly in full bloom; usually, symptoms of deteriorating health and functioning indicate a person has mental health problems. Friends and family members are the first to observe the early symptoms of a mental health disorder that just seem like the typical behaviours of adolescents.
Teenage mental health—types of mental illnesses
It is important to note that mental disorders are complex, and symptoms can vary from person to person. A proper diagnosis requires a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional.
The most common mental health disorders that affect adolescents are listed below:
These can manifest in the form of excessive worry, tension, fear, and phobias. Such feelings are generally associated with physical symptoms such as a fast heart rate, sweating, or shuddering. All of this can affect the development of a young adult.
OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is also an anxiety disorder that is characterised by intrusive thoughts (that can make you feel apprehension, uneasiness, fear, or worry) and/or repetitive behaviours that are performed to reduce the associated anxiety.
Depression disorders are characterised by feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in activities, states of helplessness or hopelessness, and decreased energy, disrupting their day-to-day activities. Affected teenagers may also experience physical symptoms such as difficulty concentrating or changes in sleep patterns and appetite. Some people may exhibit more prominent physical symptoms than feelings of sadness and other symptoms. Adolescents may also develop a mixed anxiety-depressive disorder.
Disturbed thinking and perception are characteristics of this mental disorder, and oftentimes people with schizophrenia express inappropriate emotions. Affected teenagers will likely have delusions—beliefs about things or people that don’t change even when evidence points to another direction. These delusions are often paranoid or bizarre; for example, the affected individual may believe that someone in their family is trying to kill them. Disruption perception in a teenager with schizophrenia can be recognised in the form of hallucinations—sensory perception of someone or something that is not present; for example, seeing a wild animal chase them in their home. All of this affects their behaviour, which may appear strange to an observer.
Substance use disorders
Acute intoxication, harmful use, and dependence can affect teenagers negatively. Substance use can include the use of psychoactive substances such as opioids, alcohol, cannabinoids, sedatives, hypnotics, cocaine, hallucinogens, and other stimulants.
Other mental illnesses that may affect adolescents include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, eating disorders, conduct disorders, and learning disorders.
How does mental health among teenagers affect their lives?
If a teenager has (or has had) mental illnesses that is not diagnosed and treated, the following possibilities may arise:
- Suffering or distress in family life or personally.
- Functional impairment, such as the inability to study, work, raise children, and be independent.
- Discrimination or exposure to stigma leading to isolation, abuse from others, and missed opportunities.
- Premature death due to overdose on drugs, or suicide.
- Increased risk-taking behaviour, such as engaging in unprotected sex, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use.
Diagnosing mental illness—what are the warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents?
Disruption of social, emotional, and cognitive functioning are typical markers of mental health disorders, which may seem regular or normal for teenagers. However, by paying close attention, you may be able to identify if the individual is struggling with their mental health. This can help with the early diagnosis of mental health problems, which can play an important role in helping the individual lead a fulfilling life.
The teenager’s primary care doctor may also be able to diagnose any mental health problems and recommend a specialist since they know about the child’s medical history and can analyse their current health quickly.
Many children and teenagers will have a drastic decline in their grades if they are having difficulties with their mental health, but there are other warning signs as well. Sudden changes in social habits, such as refraining from friends, school, and favourite activities, can also be a telltale sign. Additionally, different types of teenage mental health problems have a different set of symptoms that you can look out for.
Stigma related to mental health for adolescents and therapy
Social stigma is associated with mental health for adolescents, as many people believe that a person who is diagnosed with a mental illness will be affected by the problem for the rest of their lives. This is simply untrue; mental health problems can be short-lived as well, just like physical illnesses. If you or someone you know was or is diagnosed with a mental illness, you or they will not necessarily have to deal with it for the rest of their lives.
The following strategies can be deployed to manage and treat mental illnesses:
- Identifying the stressors, such as lack of sleep, skipping meals, etc., and correcting them
- Counselling or therapy sessions with an expert
- Prescription medications from a psychologist
- Exercising regularly and practising other forms of mindful activities such as yoga and meditation
Rising awareness about mental health for adolescents and mental health in general is helping to break the social stigma associated with mental health problems. However, people still don’t feel comfortable going to therapy or seeking professional help for their mental health problems. There are numerous free counselling services available on call if you search the internet. You can explore them and try different therapists or psychologists to find your match.
Mental health for Adolescents FAQs:
What is the most common mental illness in youth?
Generalised anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and schizophrenia are some of the most common mental health illnesses in young adults. Mental illnesses in teenagers are more common than people think; in some cases, they may go away on their own, but in others, they affect the teenager’s development.
How do I know if my teenager has a mental illness?
There are certain warning signs that you should be looking out for, including the following:
• Sudden changes in their behaviour, mood, sleeping patterns, appetite, weight, etc.
• Increasing irritability
• Irrational fear or worry
• Constant feelings of sadness, helplessness, or pessimism
• Experiencing delusions or hallucinations
• Talking, walking, or eating slower than usual
• Falling grades
• Lack of interest in socialising or previously preferred activities
You can learn more about the warning signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses in the dedicated section above.
How many teens have mental health issues?
According to the World Health Organisation, globally, 1 in 7 people aged 10 to 19 years are prone to experiencing a mental disorder. This accounts for 13% of the global burden of diseases among teenagers.
What can you do to stay mentally healthy during adolescence?
The following way can help you stay mentally healthy during your teenage years:
• Track your moods and feelings on a regular basis
• Seek help if you observe any sudden changes in your behaviour, appetite, sleeping pattern or mood
• Don’t ignore persistent aches that don’t go away with over-the-counter treatment
• Ask your parents or someone you trust for advice on your problems
• Don’t isolate yourself
If you or someone you know is having extreme feelings or thinking suicidal thoughts, contact someone immediately to save a life.