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Typical Teenager or Problem Behavior?

Silver Hill Hospital

For Children and adolescents, it is estimated that one in every five has a mental health disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, half of all chronic mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and fully three quarters have begun by age 24. However, few receive appropriate psychiatric services treatment until years, even decades later. The reasons for this include stigma, lack of resources, and a dearth of trained professions.

Anxiety disorders often begin in childhood, mood disorders tend to begin after puberty, and substance abuse varies, but often becomes a chronic, difficult to treat problem in the early 20s. These problems often take hold when young people are at the prime of life; starting high school, entering college or beginning a career.

Many parents find it hard to distinguish between “typical” teenage behaviors and the onset of a mental illness. Below is a list of warning signs to watch for:

  • Marked change in school performance
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Marked changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Many physical complaints
  • Sexual acting out
  • Depression shown by sustained, prolonged negative mood and attitude, often accompanied by poor appetite, difficulty sleeping or thoughts of death
  • Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Intense fear of becoming obese with no relationship to actual body weight, purging food or restricting eating
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Threats of self-harm or harm to others
  • Self-injury or self-destructive behavior
  • Frequent outbursts of anger, aggression
  • Threats to run away
  • Aggressive or non-aggressive consistent violation of rights of others; opposition to authority, truancy, thefts, or vandalism
  • Strange thoughts and feelings; and unusual behaviors

(List compiled from “Fact for Families,” American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)

If any of these signs are observed more than once over several weeks, parents should take their teen to a qualified mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker) for an evaluation.

When detected early, problem behaviors can be easier to treat and may prevent years of suffering later in life. Sophisticated psychiatric assessments provide insight into the cause of the problem and point toward evidence based treatments which may include psychotherapy, medication treatments, or a combination of the two. With proper treatment, we hope to help teens with problem behaviors and or mental illness to regain access to their former selves and realize their potential.