top of page

7 Signs of Teenage Mental Illness

Most teenagers are dramatic, complicated and wonderful. The teen years are filled

with physical and emotional changes that can cause confusion and drama as teens navigate becoming young adults. Emotional turmoil is expected but when does normal teenage angst become something more?

If you’re worried about your teenager’s moods and behavior, you’re not alone. Many parents worry about the mental health of their children. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if your once easy-going child’s now dramatic mood swings are just normal growing pains, or a sign of anxiety, depression or another mental illness. Here are a few of the warning signs you shouldn’t ignore.

Know Their Normal

To understand if your child is struggling, you must first understand who they are. As your child turns into a teenager, they’ll change. You can get a sense of how they react to the world from their teachers, other parents and their fellow teens. You must first understand your teens' “normal” to know when things become abnormal. Dip your toes into what’s going on in their world. Watch some of the shows targeting teens. Learn what social media channels they use. The social culture your teen lives in can give you context for their behavior.

Chronic Mood Issues

Teenagers are notorious for mood swings. But it’s not like they’re doing it on purpose. Studies have shown teenager’s emotional development lags behind their cognitive control systems, this makes it hard for them to cope with big emotions. As teens become adults they learn and grow into being able to stabilize these emotions.

For most teenagers, a particular side of the mood swing will be momentary. That length of time can be an evening or even a couple of days. However, their mood should go back to their normal. Mood swings can be a sign of a bigger problem when they stick around for weeks or months, or go away and reoccur in an abnormal frequency with many triggers.

Aggressive and Violent Behavior

Teens have big emotions that can come with big outbursts, but when those feelings escalate into physical or verbal aggression and violence, that’s a sign of something deeper. Managing emotions in a proper way is a skill that’s taught and learned. If your teen chooses aggression or violence to cope, it’s time to seek professional help. Some of the warning signs for aggressive and violent behavior include online bullying, name-calling, physical altercations, damaging property, making threats and talking about violence and weapons.

Frequent Disobedience/Lashing out Verbally

Some parents assume that once they make it past the toddler tantrum phase, life becomes smooth sailing. These parents probably haven’t raised a teenager. As teens begin to establish their own identities they begin to rebel, in particular when parents set boundaries they don’t agree with. When parents set curfews, dating boundaries and social media guidelines, they might see pushback in the form of anger, frustration and disobedience. This is normal. However, complete disregard for any sort of rules and authority can be a warning sign.

Another warning sign can be when teens express their anger with frequent and loud outbursts that involve yelling and name-calling. While even the best teen can have a bad day, when these experiences become routine and teens don’t recognize the seriousness of the behavior, that’s when professional help is advised.

Loss in Interest in Family, Friends and Hobbies

It’s common for teenagers to pull away from their families as a way to assert their independence. It’s normal and important for their development. However, if your teenager suddenly begins to distance themselves from all family and friends, it could be a sign that something deeper is going on. Pay attention if they begin avoiding social activities and their favorite hobbies.

Significant Changes in Energy/Sleeping Habits

Poor sleeping has been linked to teenage depression and anxiety. Too much or too little sleep can signal a problem. Take note if your once early-riser is suddenly sleeping the day away or if your teen is suddenly exhausted because they’re not getting enough sleep and staying up until the early morning hours.

Big Drop in School Performance

School performance can be a major indication of the state of your teen’s mental and behavioral health. If your teen, who once excelled in school, is suddenly failing it’s time to check-in. The good news is that when something like this happens, teachers usually take note. Teachers can be a great resource to let you know what’s going on. They might pick up on attitude changes, new social circles or something else that might seem off.

Parents need to remember that not all of these signs are proof of a mental or behavioral illness. Sometimes major life events can trigger these changes like an illness or death in the family, relationship problems like a breakup or bullying, or even just the stress of navigating adolescence. However, it’s never a bad idea to seek professional help for your teen and family.

We’re here to help. Our crisis line is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Please call 907-789-7610 (The Link).

bottom of page