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Mental Disorders In Teens: Types, Signs, Causes, And Treatment

Mental Disorders In Teens

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health conditions form 16% of the global burden of diseases and injuries reported in children aged 10-19, and half of all mental health conditions start at 14 years of age (1).

Untreated teenage mental disorders can extend into adulthood and can also have a significant impact on your teen’s behavior and overall well-being. If your teenager shows signs of any mental disorder, do not ignore them because timely interventions can help address the issues better.

Here is a post to help you understand more about teen mental health. We discuss the types of mental health disorders in teens, possible reasons behind them, signs and symptoms of mental disorders, and the available treatment options.

Types Of Mental Disorders In Teenagers

The following are some common mental disorders found in teenagers.

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

This disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety and worry and is one of the most common disorders in children and adolescents. Teenagers with an anxiety disorder would experience fear, nervousness, and shyness and tend to avoide specific places and activities.

It increases the risk of depression by eight times. Teenagers with this disorder tend to imagine and assume situations that are less likely to occur and become tensed and worried.

Management of anxiety disorder includes pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches. The non-pharmacological approach is often recommended for childhood anxiety disorder. However, pharmacotherapy is recommended in severe and chronic cases (2). Some common anxiety disorders include (3):

  • Social anxiety disorder: Children would become extremely worried and nervous about being in one or more social situations.
  • Panic attacks: This is a short-term attack that is seen in teenagers with an anxiety disorder. It can be triggered by a surge of intense fear or discomfort and is characterized by palpitations, pounding heart, sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): In this type, the individual will have certain obsessions and compulsions, such as excessive cleaning, counting, repeating, ordering, forbidden or taboo thoughts, and fears of harming oneself and others.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): When your child is subjected to serious injury, threatened death, or sexual violence, they may develop fear-based, emotional, behavioral, and dissociative symptoms.

2. Mood disorders

This is a hard-to-diagnose disorder in many teenagers as the symptoms are often misunderstood as ‘typical teenage behavior.’ Unlike the normal mood swings, mood disorder is characterized by intense, difficult-to-manage, and persistent thoughts and feelings. A depressed and irritable mood that lasts for at least two weeks could be linked to a mood disorder. Several factors, including genetic factors, environmental factors, and attachment or parenting styles, can contribute to mood disorders in teenagers.

Behavioral family interventions and psychotherapy are often recommended for the management of mood disorders in teenagers. While psychotherapy is reserved for severe cases, behavioral family interventions are considered the first line of treatment (4) (5).

Some common mood disorders in teenagers include (4) (5).

  • Major depression: A depressed or irritable mood that lasts for more than two weeks may be major depression. Your teenager may not be their usual self and often be irritatable rather than sad. They may also show no interest in any activity and may prefer to be left alone.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): In this condition, the child will suffer from a low-grade, chronic depression or irritable mood for at least one year.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder: This is characterized by irritability and extreme behaviors.
  • Bipolar disorder: This is characterized by bouts of elevated and depressed moods.
  • Substance-induced mood disorder: These are mood disorders and irritability triggered by the use of drugs, medications, or toxins.
  • Mood disorder due to medical conditions: These are chronic mood swings and irritability stemming from medical illnesses such as cancer and injuries.

3. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 

If your teenager has a hard time concentrating and is hyperactive or impulsive to the degree that disrupts their quality of life, then it could be ADHD (1) (3).

4. Disruptive behavior disorders 

This disorder is characterized by a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior that violates basic rights and age-appropriate societal norms.

In extreme cases, teenagers may resort to property destruction, aggression towards animals and property, theft, violation of laws, and arguments with adults (3).

It is essential to understand your teenager’s behavior and observe any deviations before labeling them with any mental disorder. While it is essential to identify and intervene early, it is equally important to avoid misdiagnosis. Misunderstanding your child’s normal behavior for mental disorders can cause depression and withdrawal in teens.

Read the next section to learn some prominent signs and symptoms of mental disorders in teenagers.

Signs Of Mental Disorders In Teenagers

It is crucial to differentiate mental disorders from hormonal changes, teenage mood swings, or typical teenage behavior. The following are some common signs and symptoms of mental disorders in teenagers.

  • Change in mood 

Your otherwise chirpy and cheerful teenager has become dull and moody. They have stopped smiling and want to be left alone. It could be a phase if they respond to your interventions and tell you why they are upset. However, if they seem to sink deep into sadness or become irritable day after day, the problem may be more profound.

  • Loss of interest 

Teenagers who are depressed may lose interest in doing things they love — it could be going out to play their favorite sport or taking up their hobbies. Some teenagers may also lose interest in basic activities, such as waking up, showering, and going to school.

  • A decline in academic performance 

A sudden drop in academic performance in teenagers may be linked to mental health issues. If your teen’s grades suddenly drop, and they do not show any motivation to go to school, it could be an early warning sign. They may also not show interest in doing homework, and you may also start getting complaints about their behavior from school.

  • Lack of self-care 

Teenagers are expected to take care of themselves as they are old enough. If your teenager shows no interest in eating right or exercising, it could be due to a mental disorder. Some may even lose interest in dressing up and being presentable.

  • Preference to stay alone 

This should not be confused with introversion, as some introverts enjoy their own company. However, a teenager with a mental disorder may not mingle with anyone and prefer to be left alone. They would tend to brood over and appear lost in thought. This isolated behavior would be sudden, and your child may also skip social gatherings.

  • Change in body weight 

A sudden decrease or increase in weight can also be a sign of a mental disorder. This could vary among children. Some teenagers may stop taking food and become thin and feeble, while others may overeat and gain excessive weight.

  • Display of extreme emotions 

If your teen displays extreme emotions, it could be a warning sign of a mental disorder. If, at one time, your teenager seems happy, while at the next moment, they cry or throw a fit, such varied and extreme emotions may be due to an underlying mental disorder.

  • Violent thoughts 

This could lead to a severe condition if the early warning signs are ignored. Teenagers may develop violent thoughts to harm others or themselves. Some may even have suicidal tendencies. If you notice your child getting attracted to violent literature or movies, it is time to sit and talk to them.

The next section tells you some possible reasons behind mental disorders in children. 

Why Do Some Teens Develop Mental Disorders?

Mental disorders in teens can be a result of the following factors. In some cases, it can be due to a combination of factors.

1. Hormones 

The adolescent brain is evolving, and several hormonal changes are at work. So, things can go wrong and involve psychiatric disorders. According to an article published in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, stress can retard the growth of the hippocampus, which consolidates memories. Some theories also state that the pruning of the grey matter or the thickening of the myelin coat in late adolescents may lead to early symptoms of schizophrenia (6).

Several studies suggest that genetics play a role in mental disorders. If one or both parents have a mental health issue, the child is at a higher risk of developing it (7).

2. Environmental factors 

Environmental factors that might affect a teen’s mental health include family conflicts, sexual abuse, and breakups. Along with these, the use of illicit drugs, injuries, and nutritional deficiencies also affect a teen’s mental health. These factors, either alone or in a combination, may alter the brain chemistry and cause mental disorders (8).

3. Stress 

Whether it is stress due to bullying at school or pressure to meet high expectations in academics, if your teen is going through tremendous stress, it can lead to mental disorders.

Treatment For Mental Disorders In Teenagers 

Short-term psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy, are the first line of treatments for mental health issues. For severe and persistent cases, long-term psychodynamic therapies might help.

Medications such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers are usually not prescribed for teenagers. They are used when the psychological treatments do not show results (9).

How To Help A Teenager With Mental Disorder 

Before determining your teenager has a mental disorder, get them diagnosed by a professional. Labeling a healthy teenager with a mental illness can disrupt their mental state.

If your child is diagnosed with a mental disorder, determine at what stage it is and learn how to cope with the disorder. Here are a few helpful tips.

  1. The first step towards healing is acknowledging the problem. Before helping your child, you need to understand that there is nothing wrong with having a mental disorder. With proper care and therapy, your child can overcome it.
  2. Shower them with extra love, care, and affection. Assure them that you are there for them, and they are not alone in this.
  3. Dealing with a teenager with a mental disorder can be overwhelming. They may sometimes hurt your feelings, ignore you, or isolate you. Do not get angry and shout at them. Instead, show patience and tell them you are there to talk whenever they are ready.
  4. Keep an eye on them. Teenagers battling extreme cases of mental disorders can sometimes resort to drug abuse or have suicidal tendencies. So, it is crucial you keep a lookout and check on them often.
  5. Talk to their friends, teachers, or trusted family members who might help you make your child better.
  6. Encourage them to keep themselves active and fit. Do not force, but gently nudge them to go for a walk with you or accompany you to the gym.
  7. Teach them the importance of good sleep and healthy eating habits, as these play a vital role in managing stress.
  8. Whenever your child shows progress, appreciate and reassure them that everything will be fine.
  9. Spend some time with your teenager and encourage them to talk about their feelings and what is happening in their life.
  10. Take them for regular consultations and sessions with a well-trained psychologist or therapist. You may also consult them and track the progress of your child.

Dealing with teen mental health issues can be hard on the whole family. It is equally important to take care of your mental health while nurturing your teenager. Seek professional advice and talk to trusted friends or family members whenever you feel overwhelmed. Also, do not delay getting your teen evaluated and treated once diagnosed with a mental disorder.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Adolescent mental health; World Health Organization
2. MS Bhatia and A Goyal; Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: Need for early detection; Journal of Postgraduate Medicine (2018)
3. Mental Health Disorders in Adolescents; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
4. Susan J Bradley; Anxiety and mood disorders in children and adolescents: A practice update; Paediatrics Child Health (2001).
5. Mood Disorders in Children and Adolescents; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
6. The adolescent brain: Beyond raging hormones; Harvard Health Publishing
7. Liangwei Xia and Shuqiao Yao; The Involvement of Genes in Adolescent Depression: A Systematic Review; Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (2015).
8. Charles W. Schmidt; Environmental Connections: A Deeper Look into Mental Illness; Environmental Health Perspectives (2007).
9. Pierre-André Michaud and Eric Fombonne; Common mental health problems; BMJ (2005).

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Sagari Gongala

Sagari was a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she used to understand people better. Her interest in reading about people made her take up articles on kids and their behavior. She was meticulous in her research and gave information that could be of help to parents in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and... more