Common Mental Health Conditions in Teens
Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Mental health is an important part of overall health, regardless of age. After reading our blog “The COVID Pandemic and Teen Mental Health”, you’ll see that the pandemic has affected teens’ mental health in quite substantial ways. Many youth are experiencing a loss of social connection, increased anxiety or worsening depression, and it’s taking a toll on their mental health.
It can be tough to tell if what you’re seeing in a teen is normal behavior, or something more concerning. Let’s look at some of the most common mental health conditions youth experience to get a better idea: Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and Depression.
One of the most prevalent is generalized anxiety. I’ll start off by saying that anxiety is a normal thing to feel and is particularly common for teenagers when they are experiencing physical and mental developmental changes.
Teens have a lot of new things that they have to be able to address - like school pressures or peer issues. Anxiety itself is expected and is even positive in some ways. Anxiety helps us to know when we need to get out of a potentially dangerous situation. It’s that feeling of butterflies in your stomach before you give a presentation, meet someone new, or perform in a sporting event. A little bit of anxiety is actually helpful and can motivate us to do things like complete tasks or make deadlines.
Generalized anxiety is when those feelings of nervousness are a little bit more intense and when anxiety becomes excessive about everyday matters rather than a situational kind of thing. While situational anxiety is normal and healthy, when someone is feeling quite anxious about little things and is maintaining a certain level of anxiety all the time, then that’s when it can be more concerning.
Another common mental health condition in teens is social phobias, or social anxiety. Social anxiety disorder can be explained as having severe feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity in social settings.
Again, some feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity in social settings is completely normal for middle school and high school kids, even young adults. So, when does it become a problem? Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) is when the nervousness becomes overwhelming and avoidant behaviors are present. It can start to become concerning when we are seeing our teen choosing to withdraw from things that they would have wanted to do in the past, especially not wanting to engage in certain social settings or interactions.
Social Anxiety Disorder symptoms include:
Our teens don’t have to have all of these symptoms to experience social anxiety, but it’s a helpful list to pay attention to and use to check in with where the teens in your life are at. If you’re noticing that they are experiencing one area quite strongly, it’s important to try to get some support in that area. We want to try and help give youth what they need to be able to feel comfortable in social settings.
Depression is another common mental health condition to look out for. Teens may be depressed when they are having persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness. Did I just say anxiety again? Yes! Anxiety can often go hand in hand with depression.
So, how do we know if a teen is depressed? Some symptoms to pay attention to with depression are:
Of course, there are going to be times when teens feel sad. When we are seeing these things persistently is when it becomes more of a concern and can be categorized as depression. A couple other things that can be indications of depression are not doing well in school when they otherwise have not had troubles, and having sleeping troubles, whether sleeping too much or too little.
You may have noticed that depression can affect our bodies and can be something we can observe in another’s body. Teens that are depressed may look like they are compressing or being pulled down, their head may hang down, and they may shuffle their feet or not lift them up when walking. Presenting depression in physical aches or pains is especially true for younger kids. For example, this might be a stomachache or headache that doesn’t seem to go away.
It’s really important to pay attention to any extreme signs of depression that teens may be showing or a loss of interest in things that they’ve enjoyed in the past. A study done on suicidal ideation from the Center of Disease Control in August 2020 shows some pretty concerning results. The study found that the number of people that have seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days has increased from 10% pre-pandemic to 25.5%, mostly with young adults. More recently, there have been some studies done that are showing those numbers increasing even more. Since the start of the pandemic, emergency department visits for attempted suicide have risen 51% among adolescent girls. If someone says that they are contemplating suicide, always take it seriously.
An extreme sign of suicidal risk can be if a teen has gone through a long period of time in which they seemed chronically depressed, and then suddenly, they seem to be euphoric. You may see them looking excited or happy and think that they are starting to get better, but it can a sign that they’ve decided to move towards acting on the suicidal impulse. Another thing to pay attention to is if they are starting to give away possessions. Under these circumstances you should act immediately, whether calling 911 or taking them to the emergency room.
Okay, take a breath… this is heavy stuff! All these different mental health conditions youth can experience - the risk of suicide, anxiety, the different struggles they can have - It’s a lot to handle and can feel overwhelming.
So, what do you do if you see these symptoms? If you see these coming up in your kids and it feels like it’s a concern, listen to your intuition. What does it feel like? Are these normal feelings? Feelings we can cope with at home, or are they bigger than what feels manageable?
If you see any symptoms of generalized anxiety, social anxiety, or depression, it would be important to contact your pediatrician or a mental health professional to seek some support. It never hurts to reach out! If there is any question at all that your teen could benefit from some support from a professional, then definitely seek the assistance that you need. A professional can help the process of getting things back to a better place - NO SHAME!
While there is no right way to cope with crisis, there are things that we can do to help manage our emotions and support one another. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog, “Supporting Teen Mental Health” to find ways that you can provide proactive support or help mitigate some of the symptoms that youth are experiencing.
Written by Amanda Holst, restART Studio Executive Director
(1) National Institute of Mental Health