Mental Health Of Teenagers – How Do I Navigate And Get Professional Support?

Unlike a sign of physical injury such as a broken bone, a mental health-related problem often goes undetected and, therefore, untreated for months and even years, if at all. Mental health issues among teenagers are even more difficult to spot and address. This is because most teens do not admit struggling with an emotional, behavioural, or mental disorder, which is the definition the National Institute of Mental Health gives to mental illness.

On the other hand, we have teenagers’ parents, who appear to have a hard time recognising the warning signs and coming to terms with the fact that their child might need help due to a mental health issue. However, almost 50% of adolescents between 13 and 18 years of age experience mental illness at some point in their life, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The World Health Organization also reports that more than 15% of people aged 10-19 around the world face a mental health condition, with almost half of these conditions starting by the age of 14 and going undetected in their vast majority.

Before we move on with this article, do bear in mind that mental illness is NOT a moral falling. It is also NOT a choice. It is a disorder of brain function and can result from several factors, including one’s environment and genes. So, no, you are NOT crazy or someone that should be marginalised or stigmatised for struggling with a mental disorder. What you DO need to do, though, is seek professional help, advice, and guidance so that you can feel better as soon as possible and enjoy every single moment of you growing up!

Most Common Mental Health Disorders Among Teens

Teenagers usually experience:

  • Emotional disorders – These include mood and anxiety disorders and can often be accompanied by anger, frustration, or irritability. Sudden emotional outbursts and dramatic mood swings are also signs of a teenager emotional disorder. Younger adolescents may also feel nausea, stomachache, and other physical symptoms that manifest themselves after an emotional trigger.
  • Eating disorders – Eating disorders usually affect teenage girls more than it does adolescent males. Related conditions include binge eating, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa, all of which are tied to health-harming eating behaviours and often co-exist with other issues, such as anxiety, depression, and/or substance misuse.
  • Risk-taking behaviours – These include sexual risk-taking, perpetration of violence, and substance use (i.e., episodic drinking, use of cannabis), which may also indicate poor mental health and can impact a teenager’s physical and psychological wellbeing.
  • Gaming disorder – This is a newly classified mental health condition by the World Health Organization and refers to a teen’s inability to control a video gaming-related obsession. A gaming disorder is similar to substance abuse, gambling addiction, and other addictions.

Of course, there are more serious ones, such as major depression and schizophrenia. This article, though, will focus on the milder types of mental illness. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to address adolescent mental health issues early. Research has shown that the consequences of leaving a mental health disorder untreated can extend to adulthood and prevent the individual from leading a happy and fulfilling life. Plus, it can affect not only a person’s mental state but also their physical health.

Reasons & Misconceptions of Adolescent Mental Health Disorders

Entering puberty often comes with the emergence of mental health issues. Researchers believe this is attributed to the following key factors:

  1.  Hormones – During adolescence, the brain develops rapidly. At the same time, the body undergoes major hormonal changes. Studies have evidenced that when parts of the neural system do not follow the developmental rate of the body during teen years, it leads to the teenager experiencing changes in their behavior, mood, and thinking
  2. Environment – A teen’s mental health can be affected by traumatic experiences, such as a near-death instance. Exclusion, discrimination, stigma, one’s living conditions, as well as having a history of abuse, may also enhance the risk of an adolescent developing a mental health condition.
  3. Stress – Stress can have a detrimental effect on one’s mental and physical health, and can be triggered by various reasons, such as bullying and self-imposed pressure to perform well academically.

At this point, it is wise to distinguish typical moodiness and normal mood swings from a mental health disorder, because they are often (falsely) interchangeable terms. Some of the signs that could indicate mental health issues include:

  • Withdrawing from/avoiding social activities and/or interactions(i.e., family gatherings, get-togethers among peers, etc.)or excessive secrecy.
  • Eating (e.g., overeating or loss of appetite) and sleep problems (i.e., feeling tired all the time and wanting to sleep or being unable to sleep for a long period of time).
  • Expressing excessive anger, hopelessness, or sadness (i.e., a constant repetition of thoughts like “I hate myself”, “I wish I was dead”, “I don’t care anymore” or “nothing matters”).
  • Substance use (i.e., self-medicating with alcohol or drugs to help deal with low self-esteem and/or stress).
  • Difficult making decisions, ongoing sense of apathy, inability to concentrate when you used to be goal-oriented and focused, and a substantial drop in academic performance.



Getting Help

It is critical to get professional guidance and help and refrain from things like self-medicating to help ease the symptoms you, the teenager, or your adolescent child might be experiencing. Without proper treatment, things can quickly escalate and get worse, even lead to suicide attempts.

You can find top-quality, confidential assistance from trusted sources and government or non-profit organisations, which often have toll-free numbers to call on a 24/7 basis. So, you may call (or visit) the:

  • NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) helpline (1-800-931-2237 from Mon-Fri).
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) helpline (1-800-95-6264).
  • NHS (choose between the various mental health helplines and UK-based support groups provided there).
  • TeenOnline hotline (310-855-4673 for USA and Canada)
  • SAHM (Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine) website.

Nevertheless, a simple Google search with a term similar to “teenage mental health help” (don’t forget to include your country in the search) will provide you with a list of all available resources and reliable sites/communities/organisations you can get in touch with for teen mental illness-related concerns and issues. There is no need to suffer in silence. You are definitely not alone in this struggle. Time to claim the happy life you deserve now and forever. Support is within an arm’s reach.