The teenage years are accompanied by many emotional, physical, hormonal, and social changes. Some adolescent behaviors are completely normal and happen as a result of brain changes, but other behaviors are more serious and can be signs of a mental disorder. It’s important for educators and parents to be aware of the signs of teens struggling with a mental health problem.
The CDC describes mental disorders in teens as “changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, causing distress and problems getting through the day.” Since 50% of lifetime cases of mental illness begin at age 14, it is vital that we watch out for signs of these behavior changes in teens.
A Growing Problem
The Adolescent Wellness Academy says that mental illness in adolescents is becoming increasingly more common. Mental Health America reports that “9.7% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in last year’s dataset.” Unfortunately over half of teens who experience a mental disorder, do not get the adequate help they need.
By being proactive and looking out for signs of mental health issues, you can help students get help before experiencing disruptions in their schoolwork or relationships.
What to Look For
The most common mental health issues among teens are depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Being attentive and watching for signs that a student is struggling, is crucial. Here are some common signs that could indicate a teens mental health is struggling:
- Losing interest in things they once loved
- Avoiding food
- Loss of self esteem
- Strong shifts in personality
It is important to keep an honest and open line of communication between you and your students. Establishing a strong relationship with them will help them feel comfortable coming to you about a difficult topic.
How to Help
A great place to start when you expect mental health struggles in a student is by talking with the school guidance counselor. They will be able to guide you one what next steps to take as well as providing the student with support. TeenMentalHealth.org also has many great resources for educators about how to assist students who are displaying some out of character behaviors. As an educator, the two most important things to do are 1. look out for the signs of mental health struggles in your students and 2. provide a safe and supportive classroom environment.
While mental health issues rising among teens is only going to continue to become more prevalent, by looking out for your students and being an advocate for them to receive the help they need, you can make a positive impact.