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10 Behavioral Issues in Teens That Can Signal a Mental Health Problem   

Mental Health vs Behavioral Issues in Teens

If there’s a teen in your home, you’re likely no stranger to the complex landscape of adolescent development, which can be dramatic, to say the least. Teenagers are constantly trying on new identities, shifting interests, experimenting with new friends and social groups, and even changing their appearance with new hair or clothes to understand who they are and who they want to become as they mature.  

Many of these behaviors are normal. To some degree, parents can expect teens to have occasional mood swings, rebellious moments, and changes in their appearance or priorities. By understanding what’s considered normal and what may indicate a deeper behavioral issue, parents can foster a supportive home environment that promotes mental health and enables teenagers to navigate challenges with resilience, all while learning to seek the assistance they need. 

This guide will reveal 10 common behavioral issues in teens that can also indicate mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Our goal is to prepare parents with knowledge,, so you’ll be equipped to provide the best environment possible for your teen to flourish and thrive.  

10 Behavioral Issues in Teens to Be Concerned About  

It’s crucial to begin this discussion with the understanding that individual behavior in specific circumstances does not necessarily indicate a mental health problem. And indeed, not every teen with the below behavioral issues will suffer from a severe mental health crisis. The teenage years are full of cognitive and physical development that leads to a fair amount of moodiness, unpredictable reactions, and angst, considered both developmentally appropriate and typical.  

That being said, if you notice extreme and sustained changes in your teen’s behavior or suspect something is wrong, the following list can help you pinpoint where to start an honest and open conversation with your teen.  

1. Loss of Interest in Once-Loved Hobbies 

Teens struggling with mental health issues might lose interest in activities they once enjoyed due to a lack of motivation, energy, or a sense of pleasure, which can indicate depression or other emotional challenges. 

2. Withdrawal from Family 

While teenagers do naturally drift away from the nuclear family during this stage of development, becoming independent people outside of the household, if a teen becomes increasingly distant from family members, avoids conversations, or spends a lot of time alone, it could signal emotional struggles and a desire to cope independently. 

3. Avoiding Friends and Social Activities 

If you notice your teen starts to avoid friends they were once close with or decline invitations to social interactions and gatherings they once participated in. They might be dealing with anxiety, depression, or other emotional issues that make social situations overwhelming. 

4. Extreme Mood Swings 

While teenagers are known for their mood swings and often unpredictable reactions, rapid and intense shifts in mood, from extreme highs to lows, could be a sign of bipolar disorder or other mood-related disorders that require professional assessment and support. 

5. Change in Eating Habits or Drastic Weight Loss/Gain 

A noticeable and sustainable shift in eating patterns, resulting in extreme weight loss or gain, could indicate an eating disorder or emotional distress linked to self-esteem and body image. Like many other mental health conditions, eating disorders are commonly co-occurring (or co-morbid) with other mental health issues. Note the following statistics from the National Eating Disorders website:  


  • Two-thirds of people with anorexia also showed signs of an anxiety disorder several years before the start of their eating disorder. 
  • Childhood obsessive-compulsive traits, such as perfectionism, having to follow the rules, and concern about mistakes, were much more common in women who developed eating disorders than women who didn’t. 
  • A study of more than 2400 individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 97% had one or more co-occurring conditions, including: 
    • 94% had co-occurring mood disorders, mostly major depression 
    • 56% were diagnosed with anxiety disorders 
      • 20% had obsessive-compulsive disorder 
      • 22% had post-traumatic stress disorder 
      • 22% had an alcohol or substance use disorder 
  • Approximately one in four people with an eating disorder have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

6. Self Medicating with Substances 

While trying new substances in the teenage years is considered normal and a way to navigate many social situations, teens may also turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with emotional pain or mental health struggles, which can exacerbate their issues and lead to addiction. 

7. Slipping Grades 

A sudden drop in academic performance might result from concentration difficulties from underlying mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, or an attention disorder. 

8. Sleeping Problems 

Insomnia, oversleeping, or erratic sleep patterns can indicate stress, anxiety, depression, or other emotional difficulties that affect a teen’s overall well-being. 

9. Self Harm 

Engaging in self-harming behaviors such as hair pulling, cutting, bruising, etc., can be an alarming sign of emotional distress or mental health disorders. These behaviors often stem from a need to express pain or regain a sense of control. If you notice or suspect your teen is self harming, seek professional help immediately. 

10. Difficulty Making Decisions 

If you notice your teen struggling to make decisions, even minor ones, this may reflect heightened anxiety and a lack of self-confidence, potentially linked to broader mental health concerns. 

Remember that while these behavioral issues could be signs of underlying mental health struggles, each teen’s experience and reasons for their behavior are unique. If you notice these behaviors in your teenager, don’t hesitate to discuss them.  And after an open and honest conversation, it’s advisable to seek professional help from mental health experts or counselors to provide additional guidance and support. 

What Can Parents Do?  

Protective factors can reduce a teen’s risk of mental illness and behavioral issues by reducing social isolation, academic achievement, opportunity and support in pursuing interests, and physical and psychological safety. Having support like this helps young people cope with difficult emotions and situations, which is essential for staying healthy as their brains develop and grow.  

Protective factors for mental health can be biological, psychological, environmental, or family-based. Examples of these protective factors that parents can support are positive development, healthy habits, good self-esteem, emotional regulation, connectedness with peers, a stable, well-structured home life, supportive relationships with family members, community mentors, academic achievement, opportunity and support in pursuing interests, and engagement within the community, school, and neighborhood.  

During childhood and adolescence, the brain develops rapidly, making it crucial to introduce supportive, protective factors that encourage positive mental health. Parents can take steps to mitigate the risk of mental illness and support their growing child or teen.  

Seeking the help of a professional mental health treatment provider is an essential first step when dealing with behavioral issues in teens, as professionals can more easily lend an empathetic ear due to their years of work with the unique experiences of adolescents and young adults facing mental health issues. 

To learn more about mental health disorders or to seek the help of a mental health professional, do not hesitate to call Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider with both inpatient and outpatient programs for young men and women. Call 877-581-1793 to speak with a treatment specialist today.