America is beginning to pay closer attention to the mental wellbeing of its teens. An alarming increase in teen suicides has pushed the topic of teen mental health disorders into the light, causing concerned parents to take a more proactive stance. Teens increasingly suffer from depression and anxiety, two potentially serious mental health disorders if left untreated. Understanding the signs of emotional distress in teens is an important first step in recognizing that the adolescent may need the help of a mental health professional.
Teen Mental Health Disorders
Teenagers face unprecedented sources of stress that many are unprepared to manage adequately on their own. Undeveloped coping skills or a lack of resilience to stress can result in psychological distress. Other factors for teen mental illness include family history of mental illness, hormonal fluctuations, trauma, or a series of upsetting life events.
Some of the most common mental health disorders experienced by teens include:
Anxiety disorders are prevalent among teens, impacting about 32% of teens prior to age 18, especially social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. While each of these types of anxiety has unique features that differentiate one disorder from the other, anxiety in teens may be generally expressed by the following symptoms:
Irrational fear or worry
Shortness of breath
Fears being judged by others
Very sensitive to criticism
Social withdrawal, isolating behaviors
Struggles with interpersonal relationships
Teen depression affects 14.3% of teens aged 13-17. When symptoms of depression do not resolve within two weeks, it is time to see a doctor for assessment. The symptoms of depression include:
Persistent sadness, hopelessness, despair
Changes in eating habits, sudden weight loss or weight gain
Sleep problems, insomnia or hypersomnia
Fatigue, apathy, malaise
Slowed movements and cognitive functioning
Loss of interest in the activities usually enjoyed
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or shame
Decline in academic performance
Somatic symptoms, such as digestive issues or headaches
Talk of death or suicide
Teen Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a serious mood disorder that often emerges in the teen years. Bipolar disorder features extreme mood swings, alternating between mania or hypomania and depressive episodes. There are four variations of bipolar disorder.
Substance Use Disorder
Teens who engage in recreational substance use may develop a chemical dependency. In some cases, the teen is prescribed opioids following a sports injury or surgical procedure and may become addicted to the medication. Signs of a teen substance use disorder include:
Outward signs, such as smelling of alcohol or marijuana
Decline in academic performance
Getting into trouble at school, legal trouble, DUI
Defiance, violating family rules, ignoring curfew
Hanging out with different crowd
Loss of interest in extracurricular activities
Sudden weight gain or loss
Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms
Engaging in risky behaviors
Some teens may have a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression, with a co-occurring substance use disorder. This is termed a dual diagnosis. Regardless of which disorder presented first, the best course of treatment is to have both disorders treated simultaneously at a program specifically designed for treating dual diagnosis.
Treatment for Teen Mental Health Disorders
When a teenager presents with a mental health disorder or dual diagnosis they will need to be treated by mental health professionals that specialize in this cohort. The teen brain is different than the adult brain, so these differences must be taken into consideration when working with a teen. In addition, a program that is tailored to teens will produce better clinical results. Teens need to relate to the activities in order to cooperate with the program.
Mental health interventions for teens are available in two basic formats, outpatient and residential programs:
Outpatient services. Outpatient mental health services are the usual route that is taken initially. Starting with a medical doctor, the teen will undergo a physical examination to first rule out whether a medical condition is possibly attributed to the symptoms. If there is no health condition then the teen will be referred to a mental health practitioner.
The usual course of outpatient treatment is for a diagnosis to be made by a psychiatrist, who will then prescribe psychotherapy and possibly medication. The teen will continue to engage in therapy for a period of time to help them discuss, process, and heal any underlying emotional issues that may be contributing factors to the mental health disorder. Therapy is offered in both individual one-on-one sessions with the psychotherapist, and/or group therapy format.
Residential treatment. In some cases, the outpatient interventions do not produce satisfactory results, or the mental health condition continues to deteriorate. A residential program for teens provides a more intensive and customized program at which the teen will reside for the duration of the treatment period. Residential programming is suited for moderate to severe diagnoses, and dual diagnosis.
A residential program provides a safe gender specific environment for the teen to receive more focused treatment. Treatment includes psychotherapy, medical detox if a dual diagnosis necessitates it, medication management, and experiential activities scheduled throughout each day. The programming is tailored for teens, providing activities that are relevant to their age, which will augment therapeutic results. Also, there will be an academic liaison on staff to tend to the student’s educational needs while they are in treatment.
Warning Signs That a Teen Needs More Intensive Intervention
There are signs and symptoms that may indicate the need for acute stabilization, or a step up to residential treatment. These include:
Violent behavior or threats
Threats of suicide or suicide attempt
Signs of psychosis, such as experiencing hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia
Extreme mood swings
When deteriorating mental health becomes evident, a residential mental health program would be an appropriate next step. The supportive environment and comprehensive interventions provide a unique opportunity for a teen in distress to focus on healing. Contact Medical Concierge Recovery today.
Medical Concierge offers quality, innovative and compassionate care for mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders. We also offer alumni services and continuing care to ensure sustained recovery.