Does My Teen Have a Mental Health Disorder? Know the Signs

Worried about your teen or adolescent? Think they might be facing a serious mental health issue? Just putting a name on it, or knowing more, can make a mental or behavior disorder seem less overwhelming.

Kids can suffer from the same kinds of mental health problems that plague adults, but their symptoms may be quite different. Depending on their ages, young people may not always be able to adequately articulate their feelings. Knowing the signs, and what to watch out for, could make it much easier to get them the help they need.

Identifying the Problem

Usually, young teens and adolescents must rely on the grownups in their life to determine if they have a mental health disorder. But all too often, many adults don’t recognize the red flags. The typical behavior of an American teenager can make this a tricky matter to navigate. For example, while depressed adults often seem sad, kids may simply appear more irritable.

Talking to Your Teen

At some point, you’ll have to talk with your teen about any difficult issues that may pose challenges to their mental health. To keep the conversation positive, Canadian counselor Jaimie Byrne suggests these tactics:

“Try to identify specific concerns, i.e., ‘I’ve noticed that you haven’t really been going out much lately, and you don’t answer the phone when your friends call.’ Or ‘I can’t help but notice that you haven’t been eating much at dinner and your stomach aches have been getting worse.’ Your teen will most likely not want to talk about it, but give him or her enough space and time to respond.”

Don’t let the stigma of mental illness slow you down. If you understand the symptoms, the sooner you seek help, the sooner you’ll have a more resilient teen.

Teens and Adolescents in Crisis

Mental health issues for teens are far more serious than many people realize. To raise public awareness, the National Alliance for Mental Illness offers these sobering facts:

  • 1 in 5 children age 13-18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness.
  • 20% of teens ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition.
  • 11% of teens have a mood disorder.
  • 10% of teens have a behavior or conduct disorder.
  • 8% of all teens have an anxiety disorder.

Left untreated, the ultimate costs of teen mental health problems to our society are staggering.

  • 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% begin by age 24.
  • The average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years.
  • Approximately 50% of students age 14 and older with a mental illness drop out of high school.
  • 70% of the teens in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness.

Just like adults, kids can develop all of the major mental health conditions as adults. But sometimes, they express them differently. The Mayo Clinic offers this useful list of the most common mental health conditions.

Anxiety Disorders

Adolescents and teens that have anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia and generalized anxiety disorder experience anxiety as a tenacious problem that interferes with their daily activities. Some worrying is a normal part of every young person’s experience, as they are change from one developmental stage to the next. However, when worrying or stress makes it hard for a person to function normally, an anxiety disorder should be considered.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

This condition typically includes symptoms in three categories: difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Some kids with ADHD have symptoms in all of these categories, while others may have symptoms in only one.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder is a serious developmental disorder that appears in early childhood, usually before age 3. Though symptoms and severity vary, ASD always affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are serious, and sometimes, life-threatening conditions. Teens often become so preoccupied with food and weight that they focus on little else.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, can cause your child to feel relentless feelings of sadness or extreme mood swings much more severe than the ordinary mood swings common for many people.


This chronic mental illness can cause a young person to lose touch with reality (psychosis). Schizophrenia usually appears later, in the teenage years.

Warning Signs

Indications that your teen could have a mental health condition include:

Mood Changes — Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last for weeks, or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.

Intense Feelings — Be aware of strong feelings of overwhelming fears for no reason, often accompanied by a racing heart or fast breathing, or worries or fears so intense they interfere with daily activities.

Behavior Changes —The changes include dramatic fluctuations in behavior or personality, or dangerous, out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to hurt others also are warning signs.

Difficulty Concentrating —Look for signs of trouble like focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.

Unexplained Weight Loss —A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or frequent use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.

Physical Symptons —Unlike adults, kids with mental health conditions may develop headaches and stomachaches before they register sadness or anxiety.

Physical Harm — Some mental health conditions lead to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. Adolescents and teens with this behavior disorder may develop suicidal thoughts or even attempt suicide.

Substance Abuse—All too often kids turn to drugs or alcohol to try to manage their feelings.

What Should I Do to Help Them?

If you’re concerned about your teen’s mental health, your first step might be consulting your family doctor. Describe the behavior that worries you. Teachers, friends, family members, or other caregivers can tell you if they have noticed any changes in your child’s behavior. A proper diagnosis, however, will ultimately require an evaluation by qualified specialists trained to work with kids in your child’s age group.

Consider Treatment at Discovery

If you’re wondering: “Does my teen have a mental health disorder?” don’t avoid getting help for your child because of shame or fear. Discovery Mood is here to help you. If your teen is tormented by the symptoms of a mental health or behavior disorder, call us now at 800.760.3934. We also encourage you to take the FREE Teen Mental Health Evaluation.

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week in May, NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, offers information, tips, toolkits, and more for concerned parents.To combat these statistics, during Mental Awareness Week, NAMI provides special programs, free screenings, guidelines, plus tools and tips for families, friends, teachers, and healthcare providers. Center for Discovery also provides a Teen Mental Health Assessment to find out if you and your child may benefit from consulting a specialist

Related Articles on Discovery Mood & Anxiety


  1. NAMI- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Mental Health Awareness Week. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  2. NAMI: Mental Health by the Numbers. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  3. Mayo Clinic- Mental illness in children: Know the signs. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  4. Friends for Mental Health: Normal Teenage Behavior vs. Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness, by Jaimie Byrne. Retrieved September 4, 2016.

Discovery Mood provides effective personalized behavior modification programs with multi-faceted levels of care that range from residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, to partial hospitalization for adolescents and teens that are struggling with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, self-harm behaviors, gender identity, oppositional defiant disorder, eating disorders, and other major mental health disorders. Call now and speak with one of our highly trained admission specialists today. All calls are completely FREE and completely confidential. Remember you can also make a reservation to tour our locations. See for yourself the breadth and depth of our patient-centric teen mental health treatments.