early warning signs of mental illness in teens
Published On: October 14, 2016|Categories: Mental Health|

Young children and teens are not immune to mental illness. As with many other forms of illness, early detection can improve the outcome of subsequent treatment. However, detecting signs of mental illness in teens can be difficult. The following are some things that may indicate your child could have a mental disorder.

Anxiety and Fear

Every teen will experience some anxiety from time to time, such as in the period leading up to exams. However, if a teen is feeling almost constantly anxious, there could be a mental health problem. An anxiety disorder could have a devastating effect on teens and should be addressed as early as possible.

Major Behavioral Changes

If a teen’s behavior changes radically, it is important to find out why, because this is one of the most common symptoms of mental health disorders. Teens who have previously had no trouble at school may start getting into fights or having disciplinary problems.

Other examples of behavioral changes that may be cause for concern include:

  • Starting to miss school classes
  • Poorer performance on tests
  • Decreasing interest in personal hygiene
  • Becoming lethargic and withdrawn
  • Pronounced mood swings
  • Dropping existing friends and hanging around with others whose behavior is questionable


Many adolescents will experiment with drugs or alcohol. It has become so widespread that it is almost a rite of passage in many areas. More than half of all high school kids will have tried alcohol before their schooling finishes. According to the National Institute on Drug abuse, 58.2 percent of high school kids have used alcohol in the past year.1

For many teens, their experimentation will have no negative, long-term effects. For some, however, their experimentation may lead to full blown addiction. A substantial number of people who experience problems with drugs or alcohol may have underlying mental health problems for which they are seeking relief.

mental illness in teens

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s annual survey on drug use and health in 2014 showed that almost half of all adults ages 18 and over who had a mental illness also suffered from substance abuse.2 It is likely that a similar correlation exists in people under 18. If your teen has started abusing alcohol or drugs, there is the possibility that there may be a hidden mental health issue. You should keep this in mind when trying to find out why your child is abusing drugs or alcohol.

It can be difficult to differentiate signs and symptoms of mental illness from normal behavior in teens. Their bodies are undergoing rapid changes, and this can lead to anxiety, mood swing, problems concentrating and many other issues. If you suspect your teen is ill, try to broach the subject gently with them and suggest a visit to the doctor for an assessment. Try to remain calm, and be careful about being judgmental.

Remember that your teen is likely to deny there is any mental health issue and will probably resent your interference. You should be prepared to present, in a non-confrontational way, evidence of the changes you have observed that are causing you concern. If your teen is reluctant to admit problems, allow them time to process everything you’ve said.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/high-school-youth-trends
  2. http://www.samhsa.gov/disorders
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