Mental Health and Teens

A teen with depression speaks to a therapist.

Whether one wants to call it the terrific or terrible teens, the truth is adolescence can be a very trying time for both parents and teenagers. In this particular stage of life, the amount of peer pressure, social influences, and foreign discoveries to a child can often take a toll. The effects are not only emotional, but psychologically as well. In many cases these events can lead to a child developing serious mental health disorders and lifelong complications.

There are a variety of different mental health issues and their symptoms that parents should be aware of, so they can be educated and recognize a possible problem with their child.

Depression: Over 11% of teens report battling with depression, and this is a growing number.

  • Lack of enthusiasm, especially in what once was their talents/hobbies
  • Persistent bad mood
  • Uncommunicative
  • Often fatigued
  • Mention of harming oneself/ suicidal thoughts
  • Extreme isolation
  • Feeling hopelessness
  • Weight loss and low appetite
  • Difficulty making decisions and concentrating

Anxiety: Approximately 1 in 3 teens fit criteria for an anxiety disorder before the age of 18.

  • Unsubstantiated and constant worry
  • Random panic attacks
  • Avoids interaction and socialization due to fear
  • Irrational fear to things that do not pose a threat
  • Extreme moodiness

Eating Disorders: About 4 out of 10 individuals have experienced an eating disorder or know someone who has.

  • Refusing to eat due to unacceptance of physical appearance
  • Binge eating due to unnecessary stress 
  • Forcing oneself to regurgitate food in order to maintain a certain appearance
  • Expressing guilt about eating habits
  • Excessive exercise followed by minimal intake of food

In order to address these symptoms as they occur, parents need to be involved in their child’s life. Parents need to have a relationship with their teen so they see any abnormal findings. By simply communicating consistently with their child, parents can be an active part of their life and understand irregular tendencies.

Once an abnormal pattern has been identified, the next step is to get help. It is critical that parents do not ignore the warning signs or hope they will pass with time.  This is dangerous because not intervening may lead to a child self-medicating with things like alcohol, drugs, food, or other unhealthy habits. A parents’ alert sense could be the difference between helping their child get rebound, or the child losing the mental health battle. There are many different resources available that have your child’s best interest in mind. A big help could be seeking certified counselor. Providing a child with a trusted adult they can converse with can be a huge help when it comes to making sure your child is in a safe place and getting the correct care and attention they need. Doctors may also help evaluate your child’s mental health and prescribe the necessary medications to help your child. Even spending more time with your child and making sure they know that they are loved and needed can make a world of difference. Additionally, over at hope4utah.com there are many different resources to help support your child through their struggles with mental health.

Relevancy of this issue:

A teen’s mental health is a big issue in this day and age. Mental health issues account for over 16% of disease and injury in children ages 10-19. These only include the ones that have been diagnosed; it does not consider those suffering without a diagnosis. It is said that approximately 1 in 5 teens suffer from some sort of mental health disorder. Without the proper treatment, it can tragically lead to a child attempting suicide or taking their own life. Suicide is one of the top three leading causes of death in adolescents related to mental health issues. Many cases of teens self-medicating due to a mental health issue can also cause a great deal of harm. About 5% of teens suffering from depression report having a substance abuse problem. Substance abuse can cause significant neurological damage due to the fact that the adolescnet brain is not fully developed.  And if teens are consuming drugs or alcohol at such an early age, the risk of becoming dependent on them throughout adulthood is significantly higher. 

One of the common ways someone suffering from depression tries to self-medicate is by committing harmful acts to themselves as their coping mechanism. In their mind, they are frustrated and in emotional distress and do not feel anything and may not know how to deal with those emotions. They turn to causing physical pain or self injury to stimulate the body’s endorphins, which in turn raises a mood and can cause one to feel something. This is not the healthy feeling that should be sought out, but when in a distressed state, that is a solution they feel they are in control of. Once a person has committed self harm, whether it is cutting, a burn, or other physical pain, they may often feel guilt. This can in turn lead to dangerous and negative thoughts causing them to inflict even more harm to themselves. It is a very dangerous place to be and important that mental health is carefully watched in adolescents to help avoid it from spiraling out of control. Self harm may be also be engaging in dangerous activities, unsafe sex, or risky behaviors, all of which can be a cry for help that should not go unanswered.

 What are the Environmental Factors that Play a Role in a Teen’s Mental Health:

It is during the teenage years that one is learning how to adapt, develop, and maintain the social skills they need to succeed in life. These learned traits are important because they will be used to support their emotional well-being. However, the more they are introduced to risk factors, there is increased potential impact they can have on an adolescents’ health. Stress is one of the most common factors that can eventually lead to serious health complications. Reasons teens may experience stress can be contributed to peer pressure at school, the desire to fit in with the social norms, sexual identity exploration, and the influence of social media. With the constant access to technology, it often provides disparity between a teen’s reality and their perception of the future; in turn, causing stress and frustration which can be detrimental to a teen’s mental health. With the prevalence of technology, especially during the vulnerable teen years, inappropriate and unwanted content can resonate in their minds and play a big influence over their daily choices and even their reasoning behind them. Monitoring the different video games played or websites visited can help provide a safer environment and improved mental health. 

School is another area where many different factors may harm a teens mental health. The stress of trying to fit in, being victim to bullying, or even just witnessing it, all can negatively impact an adolescent’s health. Keep in mind that stress is inevitable, especially during the teen years. The different expectations from school, relationships, dealing with finances, and figuring out the future are all normal things that are a part of life, but with them comes stress. The most important thing is maintaining a healthy balance. In order to redirect the negative emotions with positive ones, a healthy and safe home can create a stable environment where a teen can feel accepted and relieve the stress they experience in their school setting. There are also many different activities that can be of great help when it comes to making sure a teen’s mental health is where it should be. Extracurricular activities such as exercise, social clubs, boy or girl scouts, individual or team sports, band, choir, or community service, are all great ways to improve your teen’s mental state. Recreational activities help them develop emotional and social skills that can help them grow and improve their mental health. Keeping open communication with your teens will make this process easier to know just where and what they are struggling with and to find ways to help.


Teen Mental Health Statistics: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health

Mental Health Disorders and Signs: https://www.psychguides.com/mental-health-disorders/

Resources for Teen Mental Health: https://opa.hhs.gov/about/news/e-updates/provide-adults-resources-and-tools-support-adolescent-health

Great reference for red flags in your teenagers behavior:


For many teenagers, the various tumultuous transitions that accompany adolescence and other pressures can lead to one or more of a variety of mental health disorders; all are matters of concern, and some are life-threatening.

View our Mental Health Services page for more details on what Families First Pediatrics can do for you and your family.

Zak Zarbock, M.D.

Zak Zarbock, M.D.

Zak practices pediatrics in our Riverton office.

a happy father receives a kiss from his son

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