Behavioral Changes that Could Indicate Adolescent Mental Health Issues

Children and teens can develop mental health issues that may be hard to identify. Many parents put behavioral changes down to normal development and as a result, many children and teens don’t get the treatment that they need.

What is Mental Illness?

It’s important to understand what mental illness is in order to look for the signs. You won’t know how to help a teen with depression if you have no idea what depression signs to keep an eye out for.
Mental health is the wellness of how a child/teen thinks, feels, and behaves. A mental health disorder changes the patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving in a way that disrupts the way someone functions in their everyday life. This could have an impact on friendships, family, and academics for children that are not getting the right help.

The Difficulty in Seeing Mental Health Disorders in Teens

Figuring out whether a teenager is struggling with a mental health disorder, or whether they are just going through normal teenage behaviors can be tough. Children develop rapidly through their adolescent years and mental health disorder signs can be lost in the normal changes that take place during these times. Teens often struggle to explain their emotions and why they are feeling the way that they feel, and this impacts the way parents are able to understand their behaviors.

Common Adolescent Disorders

The most common mental health disorders in adolescents that are diagnosed by health professionals include the following:

  • Anxiety: The common anxiety disorders found in teens are social anxiety, general anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. They are characterized by fears, worries, and behaviors that disrupt everyday life at school and with friends.
  • Eating disorders: Teens are particularly at risk of eating disorders like anorexia, body dysmorphia, binge-eating, and bulimia nervosa. They have disordered thinking about weight, weight loss, and dieting habits that affect their health and wellness.
  • Depression and mood disorders: Depression and other similar disorders cause teens to feel demotivated, they lose interest in what they are usually excited about, and the elongated feeling of sadness impacts their ability to function at school and at home. Other disorders like bipolar cause huge mood swings and could put children in danger due to the extreme emotional contrasts.
  • PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder usually shows in anxiety, distress, nightmares, and other behaviors. This disorder is a direct result of some sort of trauma the teen has been through in the past.
  • Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is characterized by psychosis or a loss of touch with reality. Schizophrenia is more likely to present in the late teen to early adult years and can cause hallucinations and delusions.

Behavioral Changes to be Concerned About

Not all behavioral changes in adolescents point towards a mental health disorder. Teens naturally change a huge amount as they grow and your angsty teen could be just that. However, there are certain behavioral changes that could point to a more serious problem. These include:

Persistent Sadness

If your once happy child isn’t just moody but seems to have been consistently sad over a period of weeks or months, then this could be a sign of depression. If they talk about self-harm/suicide, or you notice that they are harming themselves then you need to seek immediate professional help at a teen therapy center.

Isolating Themselves

Teens that are struggling with mental health issues will often spend most of their time in their room. They will isolate themselves from friends and family to an extreme extent.


Mental health and substance abuse are inextricably linked and if your child is being extremely secretive, then chances are there is something to be concerned about.

Extreme Irritability or Outbursts

Mood disorders like bipolar cause teens to have euphoric highs and depressive lows. If your child swings from being relaxed or a bit quiet to outraged and irritable, then they could be struggling with a mood disorder.

Changes in Eating Habits

If your child suddenly loses interest in food or will not eat food that they used to love—concentrating on only eating tiny amounts of healthy food, then they may have an eating disorder. Keep in mind that bulimics might eat normally but will take trips to the bathroom immediately after eating.

Anorexia or bulimia will present itself in sudden and increased weight loss, while binge eating and emotional eating will usually lead to weight gain.

Drastic Changes in Sleeping Habits

Teenagers naturally sleep quite a lot but keep an eye on any unusual sleeping habits. Far too much sleep or far too little sleep could indicate a substance problem or a mental health issue.

Loss of Interest

If your child used to love sports, or music, or their friends, etc. but suddenly become completely uninterested and would rather spend time at home in their room, then it’s cause for concern.

Change in Academic Performance

School is usually one of the first places that will start to indicate if your child is suffering from a mental health issue. Academic grades start to slip, they avoid or skip school, distance themselves from their friends, and lose interest in extracurricular activities.

How to Help Your Child

If you have noticed drastic behavioral changes in your teen and you are concerned about their mental wellbeing, the first thing that you need to do is get in touch with a medical professional. Professionals can talk to your child and diagnose whether there is something for you to be concerned about. They can suggest therapy or medication, if needed, to ensure that your child can live up to their potential without their disorder impacting their lives negatively.

OC Teen Center is a teen mental health center that works with young people between the ages of 12 and 19. Our purpose is to provide a safe and comfortable place to help adolescents and their families overcome the hurdles of mental health problems with the right tools. We want our young people to flourish in their everyday lives and our teen rehab center is set up in a way that causes minimal disruption to our patients.

Get in contact with us today and give your child the opportunity to reach their full potential.

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