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How To Recognize the Most Common Mental Health Problems in Teens

Many teenagers are moody, but some behaviors signal something more serious than adolescent angst.


  • Step 1: Know the signs of clinical depression. Red flags include a major change in eating or sleeping habits, frequent tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness, an inability to concentrate, apathy, and low self-esteem – especially if four of more of these symptoms last more than two weeks.
  • Step 2: Pin down an eating disorder. Anorexia typically begins when a teen's successful diet leads to compliments on weight loss that spur ever more stringent dieting, until the avoidance of eating becomes a major preoccupation. Signs of bulimia include mouth sores, swollen gums, rotten teeth, swollen cheeks, and palpitations.
  • Step 3: If you recognized your teen in any of these behaviors, take them to a mental health professional for evaluation.
  • FACT: Teen girls who smoke marijuana daily are five times more likely to develop depression than girls who do not use it, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
  • Step 4: Recognize oppositional defiant disorder: It's characterized by extreme stubbornness and hostility to authority figures that can manifest as stealing, bullying, and vandalism.
  • Step 5: Know the signs of bipolar disorder. In the manic phase, the teen may talk a mile a minute, have grandiose delusions, and take excessive risks. This behavior will alternate with a depressed stage where the teen may sleep excessively or have insomnia, cry frequently, lose their appetite, and abandon activities they used to love.
  • Step 6: Know the warning signs of a generalized anxiety disorder: excessive worry about a variety of everyday problems for at least six months, an inability to relax or focus, the tendency to startle easily, and sleeping problems.
  • Step 7: Spot specific anxiety disorders. Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves disturbing thoughts the teen can't control and irrational rituals they can't give up; panic disorder, where the adolescent experiences crippling anxiety attacks; and social anxiety disorder, where the teen's fear of embarrassing themselves is paralyzing.
  • Step 8: Understand attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Teens with ADHD have difficulty controlling their behavior and concentrating. They tend to be impulsive and frequently disruptive.
  • TIP: Teens with ADHD are more likely to be heavy drinkers than teens without it.
  • Step 9: Know some of the mental health problems that commonly affect teenagers. They are: anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, and eating disorders.

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