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How Does Mental Health Affect Teens? What Parents Should Know 

effects of mental health on teenagers

Mental health issues are becoming an increasingly common topic of concern. Amidst and now after the COVID-19 pandemic, teenagers deal with new and persistent feelings of stress, fear, worry, grief, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. Many children, teenagers, and young adults do not know how to cope. Therefore, checking in with your teenager is more critical than ever. 

Untreated mental health problems can lead to substance abuse and addiction, suicidal ideation and attempts, financial and social implications, behavioral or conduct issues, and worsened symptoms or development of a mental illness.  

So if you’re wondering how mental health affects teens in your household, talking to your teenager about their mental health, even before you suspect a problem, is essential.  

Mental Health and Teen’s Developing Brains 

Teenagers and young adults are, by nature, social beings. As kids approach adolescence, they begin to define their identity, independence, and place in the world. As they develop, their bodies, minds, and emotions undergo changes that prepare them for more complex social roles.  

Teenagers thus place a greater emphasis on developing friendships with their peers and role models. Instead of prioritizing family time, they seek their friends’ approval on social matters. Particularly in high school, this exploration and social identity development takes place. 

Peer influence is a naturally important piece of development. It enables adolescents to foster a sense of self-identity, build meaningful friendships, and build cognitive abilities. In fact, in adolescence, we develop the brain areas involved in social perception and cognition.  

During this time, adolescents begin learning to understand other people’s perspectives and reflect on their own. Many require peer interactions to grow self-esteem and develop values and attitudes.  

Unfortunately, life became much more challenging when social interaction was suspended during the pandemic. Adolescents struggled. 

Adults frequently recall “easier” times when reflecting on adolescence and early adulthood. It’s easiest for parents to assume teenagers live carefree, fun, and worry-free lives. But unfortunately, teenagers are experiencing increased mental health disorders, and COVID-19 has only fueled these trends

Below we outline some of the more common mental health symptoms among teens and young adults to help parents become educated and better support their teens. 

Mental Health Symptoms to Watch For 

There are many mental illnesses, each with unique symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment regimes. Some of the most common mental health disorders in teenagers and young adults include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 
  • Eating Disorders 
  • Substance Use Disorders 

While symptoms of each mental health issue differ, there are some common signs that parents and guardians can watch for. Keep in mind that younger children typically exhibit behavioral signs of poor mental health, while teenagers will display different identifiers.  

So, when asking, “How does mental health affect teens?” parents should look for signs of a mental illness most commonly identified in teens and young adults rather than the often-cited behavioral problems of younger children. 

For example, while a child may throw a fit or refuse to go outside to play with friends, your teenager will show less dramatic signs of mental distress. In fact, some mental illness symptoms can overlap with “typical” teen behavior, making them easy to miss. 

Symptoms of poor mental health in older adolescents and young adults include: 

  • Excessive worry or fear 
  • Excessive sadness or hopelessness 
  • Problems concentrating, learning, and staying still 
  • Confused thinking 
  • Inability to effectively cope with difficult situations and stress 
  • Failure to carry out regular, daily activities 
  • Excessive tiredness, fatigue, or low energy 
  • Intense lack of self-confidence and worry about appearance/weight 
  • Physical ailments without obvious causes, such as headaches, stomach aches, and muscle aches 
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain 
  • Prolonged and intensified feelings of anger and irritability 
  • Changes in sleeping habits 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Out-of-control or severe risk-taking behaviors 
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” and “low” periods 
  • Changes in eating patterns, such as increased hunger and food intake, or lack of appetite/refusal to eat 
  • Loss of interest in once-loved activities and hobbies 
  • Loss of interest in schoolwork and drop in grades, as a result 
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities 
  • Struggles relating to other people or understanding others 
  • Lack of self-awareness and ability to recognize changes in one’s feelings, behaviors, and personality 
  • Misuse of substances, including drugs and/or alcohol 
  • Attempting to end one’s own life or talking about it 

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your teen, starting a discussion about their mental health is essential. Ask questions about how your teen feels, what they are dealing with, and how you can help.  

More than ever, open and transparent conversations about daily challenges, mental health struggles, and fears are necessary. Honest conversation is the first step to getting professional help.  

Begin the conversation by asking your teenager questions like: 

  • Do you feel sad?  
  • Are you feeling stressed?  
  • Is something making you feel scared? 
  • What is bothering you? or Do you know what is bothering you? 
  • What do you think you might need to feel better? 
  • Do you feel loved and supported? 
  • Do you feel like you need someone to talk to but don’t know where to turn? 
  • If you could do anything right now, what would it be? 
  • Are you eating, exercising, and/or sleeping well? 
  • How is your body feeling? Do you feel any pain? 
  • What do you do with your friends? 
  • How has the pandemic impacted your life and your mental health? 

The Importance of Mental Health for Teens and Young Adults 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that most mental health conditions begin by age 24. However, at least half of mental illnesses begin by age 14. As a parent, be aware of potential mental health disorders. Statistics show that mental health disorders are common in youth, with more than 1 in 6 youth experiencing mental illness yearly.  

If you are a parent and suspect your child struggles with mental health, the time to act is now. Begin these conversations with your teen at home. Let your teenager know how much you love them, support them, and are there when they are in need. Ask if they need help. And if you feel increasingly concerned about your teen’s overall health and wellness, know that there is support for you and your loved one. 

Turnbridge is a leading mental health and substance abuse treatment center for adolescents and young adults. We have dedicated programs for young men and women struggling with mental health issues, substance use disorders, eating disorders, and more. Call us at 877-581-1793 to speak with an admissions counselor or explore our programs online.