adolescent emotional psyche
Published On: April 12, 2016|Categories: Teen Mental Health, Treatment|

Teenage years are a critical time of social, psychological and biological development between childhood and young adulthood. With changes in hormones, physical appearance, friend groups and all the environmental transitions between elementary, junior high and senior high school, this period of life is an emotional time for young people. While mood swings can seem like a natural part of this process, it’s important to be aware of the deeper issues teenagers may be struggling with.

Emotional development in adolescence

According to one source, “Adolescence is a phase of the lifespan that begins around the onset of physical puberty and ends with the assumption of adult roles.” It then goes on to say, “In the emotional domain, although a typical adolescent is overall happier than unhappy, the evidence does suggest that adolescents experience frequent and intense emotions that accompany a marked increase in their risk for mental disorders characterized by problems with emotion regulation.”

What this means is that teens who have not been taught how to regulate their emotions and those who are not guided through healthy processing of their emotions are more at risk of developing a mental health disorder. This may manifest through symptoms of generalized anxiety or even more severe signs like self-harm or suicidal talk.

The good news is, however, that teens can be taught how to handle emotional instability. Healthy coping mechanisms, proper boundaries and a balanced routine are all important factors for teens to learn to implement to help manage emotions now and in the future.

Signs of a struggling teen

In order to know whether a teen is experiencing normal emotional changes due to hormonal fluctuations or is actually battling a mental health concern, there are some signs likely to manifest to help you tell between the two.

School avoidance

As a result of struggling with psychiatric disorders or other environmental stressors, adolescents may resist going to school or taking part in academic or other school activities. If teens feel a significant amount of stress from academic expectations, they may avoid this stress by not completing their work or skipping school/classes.

If they are being bullied, teens may avoid school in order to avoid situations of bullying; declining grades may be another result of feeling stressed or scared while at school.

You may notice symptoms like:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Episodes of crying
  • Experiencing panic attacks
  • Threatening to harm themselves

While reasons for refusal to attend school may be understandable at times, anxiety must be addressed appropriately, otherwise, the teen may become more distant from their friends and fall behind in school.


Teen depression is an emotional state internalized by adolescents, as opposed to other disruptive or problematic external behaviors. Depression causes unhealthy mood swings, anxiety, isolationist tendencies, self-harm and an overall lack of emotional stability. Teens with unstable emotions may lose interest in their hobbies or academic pursuits. Emotional instability due to untreated depression can also cause loss of appetite or unusual or prolonged sleeping habits.

One in eight adolescents struggles with some form of depression. If they harbor ideas about feeling unworthy, inadequate, or hopeless, their depression may lead to self-harm or suicidal ideation. If your teen is exhibiting symptoms, it’s important to get them the guidance they need in order to promote long-term health.

Self-harm & suicide

Self-harm is an emotional release used by teens who see hurting themselves as the only effective way to cope with emotional pain, isolation and stress. Usually, the cutting or burning of skin, and self-harm can also include more extreme forms such as taking poison or preventing wounds from healing. However, the psychological relief that occurs is only temporary. These actions can become addictive if alternative coping mechanisms are not provided.

According to the Child Mind Institute, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. While self-harm does not always lead to suicide, those who rely on self-harm for relief are at a higher risk of having suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide.

Any signs of self-harm or talk of suicide should be addressed quickly. Be sure to not panic and overwhelm your teen with your emotions, but get the help of a trained professional if needed, and seek emergent care if your teen is in danger.

Solutions for emotional instability in teens

A significant contributing factor to adolescent emotional struggles is feeling isolated, especially among peers. It’s important to get help for your teen so they have someone to talk to, be that a parent, teacher or counselor. They need to know they are not alone and that whoever they confide in will not judge them for their feelings or actions.

While it’s natural for teenagers to go through emotional highs and lows as they develop, if you believe they are struggling with depression or self-harm or are showing antisocial behavior, consider getting help.

To learn more about program opportunities that will promote mental well-being in your teen, reach out to High Focus Centers today by contacting us on our website or calling our offices at 800-877-3628.

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