Common Mental Health Issues in Teens

How Adolescents Are Susceptible to Mental Illness

upset teen girl looking away
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Teens experience many of the same mental health issues as adults. However, many teens go undiagnosed and untreated, even though most conditions are treatable. 

It’s important to keep in mind that anyone can develop a mental health problem. Although some teens may be at a higher risk based on genetics and their past experiences, all teens are susceptible to mental illness—including straight-A students and star athletes. 

Common Mental Health Conditions Faced By Teenagers

Educate yourself about the most common mental health issues teens face. Be on the lookout for potential problems and seek professional help when necessary. Early intervention can be the key to getting your teen the help she needs. 

Depression

Approximately 8 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have had a major depressive episode during the past year, according to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health published in 2015. Girls are more likely to experience depression than boys.

There are four main types of depression. And about half of all teens who meet the criteria for depression report that their symptoms severely impacts their social or academic life.

Depression is usually quite treatable. Sometimes therapy alone is helpful, and sometimes a combination of therapy and medication can offer the best symptom relief. Left untreated, depression can get worse. 

Anxiety

Approximately 8 percent of teens between 13 and 18 have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Anxiety can severely impact a teen’s life as well. It often interferes with a teen’s ability to socialize with friends. It can also interfere with a teen’s education. Severe cases of anxiety can even prevent a teen from leaving his house.

Anxiety comes in several forms. Generalized anxiety, for example, can cause a teen to feel anxious in all areas of life but social anxiety disorder may make it difficult for a teen to speak up in class or attend social events.

Talk therapy is usually the preferred form of treatment for anxiety. Teens may benefit from learning skills to manage their symptoms and face their fears. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Approximately 9% of children between the ages of 2 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of ADHD may become apparent by age 4 but sometimes those symptoms don't become problematic until the teen years.

Children may not experience academic problems until the work becomes more difficult, such as during the high school years.

There are three subtypes of ADHD–hyperactive type, inattentive type, or impulsive type. It’s also possible to have a combination of types.

Teens with the hyperactive type have difficulty sitting still, can’t stop talking and struggle to complete a project. Teens with the inattentive type lack focus and become easily distracted.

ADHD is often treated with both therapy and medication. Parent training may also be part of treatment to help the family manage symptoms in the home.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Anywhere from 1 to 16 percent of adolescents have oppositional defiant disorder, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. ODD often first emerges during early elementary school. Left untreated, it can lead to a conduct disorder, which is a much more serious behavioral disorder. 

Oppositional defiant disorder is characterized by extreme defiance, verbal and physical aggression and spitefulness. Teens with ODD tend to struggle to maintain healthy relationships and often their behavior interferes with their education. Treatment for ODD may include parent training programs and therapy.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Among teens between 13 and 18, approximately 2.7 percent suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Although eating disorders can occur in both males and females, the prevalence is higher in females.

While anorexia is characterized by extreme food restriction and weight loss, bulimia involves binge eating and purging, either by vomiting or through the use of laxatives. Binge eating disorder involves eating massive quantities of food at one time without purging.

Eating disorders can take a serious toll on a teen’s physical health. Treatment often requires both physical health monitoring and intensive therapy.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you suspect your teen may have a mental health issue, seek professional help right away. Talk to your child's physician about your concerns or consult with a trained mental health professional. 

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Article Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Published September 2015.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Any Anxiety Disorder. Updated November 2017.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and Statistics About ADHD. Updated October 15, 2019.

  4. National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Updated September 2019.

  5. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Updated January 2019.

  6. National Institute of Mental Health. Eating Disorders. Updated November 2017.

  7. National Institute of Mental Health. Eating Disorders - Overview. Updated February 2016.