It’s normal for teenagers to be moody at times. But when are an adolescent’s mood swings a sign of something more—like mental illness?
Mental illness is more common in teens than you think. But many types of mental illness are treatable, and it’s just a matter of pinpointing the diagnosis.
Six Facts About Mental Illness
Here are 6 facts about mental illness in teens that parents should be aware of.
Physicians define “mental illness” differently than most of us do
Physicians look at specific criteria in order to determine if a person has a mental illness.
For a person to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, physicians generally look for depressed mood or a lack of interest in hobbies or recreational activities. However, in teens, these signs might show up as changes in their grades, a disinterest in friends, or out-of-character irritability. If at least one of those symptoms is present, additional criteria are assessed.
Additionally, five out of following seven symptoms are required for diagnosis:
- changes in sleep
- new onset of guilt
- changes in energy level
- changes in concentration or task completion
- changes in appetite
- changes in motivation
- thoughts of suicide
If a person has experienced five of those symptoms nearly every day, for at least two weeks, he or she might be diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
The lesson: If your teen has occasional episodes of anger or stays out late sometimes, it’s probably not a reason to be worried.
On the other hand, if those feelings persist and there are other unusual symptoms, it’s probably a good idea to talk to your doctor.
Warning signs of mental illness in teens vary depending on the condition
For most kids, one of the telltale signs is going to be a decline in grades, but there are other warning signs, as well.
Changes in social habits including pulling away from school, friends, and activities that your child has enjoyed participating in in the past could be another warning sign.
Generalized anxiety, social phobias, and depression also have their own unique symptoms.
Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Feeling restless, wound up, or on edge
- Becoming fatigued easily
- Struggling with concentration
- Experiencing irritability
- Feeling muscle tension
- Having difficulty keeping worry levels under control
- Struggling with sleep, such as difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, or not feeling well-rested
Social anxiety disorder symptoms include:
- Feeling very anxious at the thought of being around others, and struggling to talk to other people
- Experiencing extreme self-consciousness and fear of humiliation, embarrassment, rejection, or offending people
- Worrying about being judged
- Feeling anxious days or even weeks ahead of a social event
- Avoiding places where other people will be
- Struggling to make and keep friends
- Blushing, sweating, or trembling around others
- Experiencing nausea around other people
And signs of depression include:
- Feeling persistently sad, anxious, or empty
- Experiencing hopelessness or pessimism
- Struggling with irritability
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- Losing interest in hobbies or activities that used to be enjoyable
- Struggling with fatigue or lack of energy
- Moving and/or talking more slowly than usual
- Feeling restless
- Struggling with concentration, memory, and/or decision-making
- Experiencing unexplained changes in appetite or weight
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
- Unexplained aches or pains that don’t go away when treated
While at least some of these symptoms generally have to be present for several weeks or months before an accurate diagnosis can be made, sometimes, even just 2 weeks’ worth of symptoms is enough to consider a diagnosis.
Mental illness in teens is more common than people think—but also very treatable
Mental illness is preventable. However, in most cases, parents don’t bring the child in until after issues have been going on for months and months because they are in denial. Most parents feel that, “It can’t possibly be what’s happening to my child.”
You should talk to your teen if you’re concerned.
If your teen seems stressed or if there’s been a significant change in their behavior it’s best to address it in conversation with them first. It may not necessarily mean a psychiatric diagnosis like depression or anxiety, but it could still be a sign that there is something going on in their life that is acting as some type of stressor.