How to spot the signs of teen mental health conditions


The NHS say “It can be difficult for parents to tell whether their teenagers are just “being teens” or if there is something more serious going on.”

But with 50% of all mental health conditions starting by the age of 14, it is possible that the behaviours associated with “being teens” are symptoms of mental health conditions more often than we think. This attitude towards teenage behaviour and mental health has led to increased levels of stigma, lower levels of awareness and ultimately a massive delay in treatment for mental health conditions.

At Shawmind, we’re on a mission to improve mental health support for teenagers by training teachers in the basics of mental health through our Headucation campaign.

Common mental health conditions in teenagers

Mental health conditions can develop at any age, however, some of the most common mental health conditions experienced by teenagers are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating Disorders
  • Substance Abuse & Addiction
  • Behavioural Disorders e.g. OCD or ADHD

Left untreated, these conditions can lead to self-harm and suicide.

Signs of mental health conditions in teenagers

Symptoms of mental health conditions can often overlap. A single instance of these may not always be cause for concern however if you notice multiple instances or a prolonged period of emotional and physical symptoms, you should seek help.

As a teacher or family member, you should be on the lookout for the following signs of mental health conditions in teenagers.

Signs of depression in teenagers

  • Persistent low mood
  • Frequent or easy tearfulness
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest and enthusiasm in activities they used to enjoy
  • Avoiding social situations and contact
  • Difficulties sleeping

Signs of anxiety in teenagers

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor performance at school
  • Feeling tired
  • Avoiding new situations
  • Easily angered or irritated
  • Frequent toilet visits
  • Constant worrying and negative thoughts
  • Complaining of physical pain like stomach aches and headaches
  • Emotional outbursts

Signs of eating disorders in teenagers

  • Change in eating habits
  • A rapid change in weight
  • Frequent comments about weight, food, and size
  • Secretive about eating habits
  • Reluctance to eat with others
  • Toilet visits straight after eating

Signs of substance abuse & addiction in teenagers

  • Loss of interest in activities that once interested them
  • Change in social circles
  • Criminal activities e.g. theft, and vandalism (even if only at home)
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Red eyes and bad skin

Signs of ADHD in teenagers

  • Constant fidgeting
  • Impulsiveness
  • Frequently interrupting
  • Difficulty concentrating for long periods
  • Making careless mistakes in school work

Signs of OCD in teenagers

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Intense need for order (i.e. will not deviate from the specified process)
  • Frequent checking and re-checking and need for reassurance
  • Feeling scared, disgusted or depressed

Signs of self-harm and suicidal thoughts in teenagers

  • Frequent injuries (e.g. cuts, bruises, scrapes)
  • Keeping themselves fully covered even in hot weather
  • Signs of low self-esteem, anxiety or depression
  • Isolating themselves from others

What puts teens at risk of mental health conditions

Many risk factors can lead to mental health conditions, the more factors a teenager is exposed to increases the likelihood of them developing a mental health condition.

  • Risk factors include
  • Bullying
  • Abuse
  • Bereavement
  • Difficult home situations (e.g. divorce)
  • Moving home or school
  • Parents with mental health conditions
  • Physical or developmental disabilities

How to help teens with mental health

All adults in a teenager’s life have a responsibility to spot and support their mental health. We believe teachers can be particularly effective in providing early intervention to prevent conditions from deteriorating to crisis levels. Since teachers spend a significant amount of time with teenagers at school but with enough distance to be able to quickly notice changes in behaviour or performance, with the proper mental health training teachers can provide invaluable support.

As well as looking out for the signs of mental health conditions in teenagers, you can actively work to reduce the stigma around mental health by having open conversations about it. This will normalise the concept of mental health for teenagers and make them more likely to acknowledge their symptoms and reach out when they need help. All adults can do this, regardless of whether you’re a parent, carer, friend, relative, or teacher.

One of the most important things you can do when it comes to helping teens with mental health is to refer them to an expert or expert resources. Many teenagers don’t want to go via the GP for mental health support so may prefer alternative mental health support options such as:

Read more about how to help teens with mental health

Our Headucation campaign aims to provide fully-funded mental health training to teachers so that they can provide crucial mental health support to teenagers in schools. Help us by supporting our campaign – buy a product from our store, enrol on one of our courses or donate to our fundraiser.

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