5 Most Common Mental Illnesses Affecting Teens

Five of the most common mental illnesses affecting teens


common mental illnesses


Our teen years are the most formative, bridging the path from childhood into adulthood and determining what kind of person we grow into. While we can write off strange behaviors or disturbing thoughts in children as nothing more than personality quirks that will soon disappear, teens exhibiting similar signs is no small matter. Red flags, such as social withdrawal, apathy, peculiar behavior or mood changes can hint at the start of mental illness.


Almost half of mental illness cases emerge by age 14, with about 75 percent recognizable by the time people reach 24. Regardless of a child’s domestic situation or upbringing, parents and guardians should be aware early of any changes. This vigilance can open a conversation about mental illness to help the child take action if any disorder does appear in later years.


Mental health shouldn’t be a taboo topic that gets swept under the rug. While society thoroughly covers physical disorders like asthma or diabetes, mental illness gets little coverage or government dollars. About 20 percent of the United States’ youth population suffers from a mental disorder, and yet the government only allocates a tiny 4 percent of the total health care budget to mental health programs.


Mental health needs to be a widely discussed topic, not just because of its prevalence, but so that people can seek help before it’s too late. In no particular order, here are the 5 most common mental illness affecting teens today.


Anxiety Disorders       

A recent phenomenon that may explain the sharp increase in mental disorders among youth is the smartphone. Excessive mobile phone can cause stress and make people anxious. In a study on the effects of smartphone usage, some 62 percent of Facebook and Twitter users  felt “inadequate” when compared to other social media users, with 60 percent having feelings of jealousy. Are these anxious feelings avoidable if teens spend less time swiping through phones?


Spending countless hours a day on a smartphone can also be a way to escape real-life problems. Phones provide endless distractions that present an unhealthy alternative to anxiety-inducing events in life. Rather than building coping skills, teens aren’t attacking the cause of their anxiety.



Teens are expected to act moody, angsty, and just plain bored, right? How do you differentiate normal teen behaviors from signs of adolescent depression? Studies show that about 1 in 5 teens have clinical depression, so it’s certainly common enough to be a concern to any parents or educator. Depression can come in the form of bipolar disorder or major depression, for example.


Warning signs of depressed teens include poor self-esteem, lack of motivation, rage, or even suicidal thoughts. In fact, just as mental disorders have been increasing, so has suicide among youth. Teens are especially prone to making rash decisions without thinking out the consequences, making suicide a dangerous and often all too easy escape from their suffering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the suicide rate for white youth (the group with the highest rates) between 10 and 17 was up 70% between 2006 and 2016.


Substance Use Disorders

Drugs can be an escape from external factors, such as familial or social issues. Substance abuse can also be a response to mental illness. Among the gloomy outlook for teen mental disorders, there’s some good news to report about substance abuse. Overall drug use among high schoolers is at an all-time low since 1975. However, because of substance abuse’s profound impact and addictive nature, it’s important to monitor it among adolescents. Some teens may use drugs to self-medicate when suffering from mental illness.


Eating Disorders

People usually associate eating disorders with anorexia or bulimia, but overeating is also within this category. Even though eating disorders are psychological, they manifest themselves physically and can have profound health impacts. Long-term effects of eating disorders include organ damage, nutrition deprivation and bullying. Girls are more likely than boys to suffer from an eating disorder.


Typically, anorexia nervosa is easily recognizable by an unhealthily thin appearance.  However, overeating isn’t as easy to diagnose as a mental disorder as it can also appear as obesity with no underlying mental cause. Triggers of eating disorders vary from social pressures to anxiety caused from consuming fatty foods.


Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a classic case of a mental disorder typically associated with childhood and teens. It’s one of the most common childhood mental disorders with symptoms appearing as early as toddler years. Children can experience frequent inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. ADHD can affect teens’ school performance or relationships with family and friends.


Awareness of mental illness is important for several reasons, but especially so for teens. Because of the correlation of substance abuse with mental health discussed above and the formative role of teenage years, we need to be extra vigilant of our youth. While they may not understand the severity of untreated mental disorders long-term, mental health professionals can provide a sustainable solution.



Author bio:  Brett Farmiloe is Contributing Writer for Online Counseling Programs, a website that offers extensive resources surrounding mental health education and professions. He is also a backyard chicken farmer who frequently contributes content to Forbes and Huffington Post.

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