Why We Should All Care About Teen Mental Health

  1. 1 out of 5 young people suffer from a mental illness (teenmentalhealth.org, 2020)
  2. Half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14 but go undiagnosed (World Health Organization, 2019)
  3. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens aged 15-19 years old (World Health Organization, 2019)
  4. In 2013 and 2014, adolescents ages 10-14 were more likely to die by suicide than motor vehicle accidents (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2020).
  5. Because of the incredible mental, social, and physical changes happening in adolescence, it is also commonly the time when mental health disorders like bipolar, schizophrenia, or eating disorders, may become present. (NIMH, 2020)
  6. The teen brain responds to stress differently than an adult brain because of all the changes it’s undergoing. This makes teens more vulnerable to anxiety and depression NIMH, 2020).
  7. Adolescence is a key time for individuals to develop healthy habits like regular sleep, exercise, and positive social interactions. These practices act as protective factors against mental health conditions and make it even more important that we focus on mental health early on! (World Health Organization, 2019)
two young women talking on a couch

Mental Health Risk Factors for Teens

  1. The desire for greater autonomy and pressure to conform with peers contribute to mental health issues for teens (WHO, 2019)
  2. Exposure to poverty, abuse, or violence can make teens more vulnerable to mental health conditions (WHO, 2019)

Social Media and Teen Mental Health

(North Carolina Medical Journal, 2020)

  1. Social media can exacerbate mental health issues by creating false expectations for a teen (WHO, 2019)
  2. Social comparison via online posts has been associated with depressive symptoms in teens and youth.
  3. Cyberbullying has consistently been associated with greater frequency of self-harm and suicidal behaviors in teens.
  4. Social media outlets play a positive role in teen mental health too! Different sites offer space for teens to access humor and entertainment, identity development, and creative expression.
  5. 81% of teens report using social media to feel more connected with friends, a key factor in  maintaining mental health
  6. LGBTQ youth report using social media to find friends with similar experiences. Many say having the ability to make online friends increased their feelings of connectedness and emotional support.

How the Body and Brain Interact and Impact Mental Health in Teens

(NIMH, 2020) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-7-things-to-know/index.shtml

  1. Teens may be vulnerable to mental health issues, but their brains are flexible and resilient, allowing most teens to go on to become healthy adults despite mental health challenges
  2. Mindfulness—or the act of refocusing the brain on the present moment—can be a helpful tool to combat anxiety and depression.
  3. A full and restful night’s sleep is essential to mental health. Teens need more sleep than adults and children. It may be inconvenient, but teen’s natural rhythms make them alert late at night and sleepy in the morning. Still–9-10 hours are recommended when possible.
  4. Most teens do not get enough sleep, which can increase difficulty focusing, irritability, and depression.
  5. The brain continues to mature through adolescence and into a person’s mid-20s. The pre-frontal cortex, which controls planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses, is one of the last areas of the brain to fully develop. This means that teens are more prone to risky behavior.

Minority Factors in Teen Mental Health

(APA, 2017). https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/mental-health-needs.pdf

  1. For black and latinx teens, the racial trauma from being stereotyped and discriminated against can contribute to feelings of isolation and poor mental health.
  2. Minority youth face discriminatory laws and policies that can heighten mental health issues and limit their civil and human rights.
  3. The combination of racial or ethnic minority status with sexual-orientation, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status, and documentation status can create unique mental health challenges for teens.
  4. Feeling positive and proud of one’s racial identity acts as a protective factor when teens confront racism and discrimination. Positive feelings of one’s racial identity also increase self-esteem, which promotes mental health.

What Teens Think of Mental Health

  1. Teens and young people often feel afraid to reach out to mental health professionals, especially to disclose suicidal thoughts. (Hart, Mason, Kelly, 2016)
  2. Many teens have stigmatizing views of mental illness, and attribute symptoms to personal weakness instead of mental health challenges. Such beliefs prevents teens from seeking help. This is damaging and shows we need to teach teens about mental health in new ways! (Hart, Mason, Kelly, 2016)
  3. A teen’s decision to seek professional help is largely based on the attitudes and support of their peers. (Hart, Mason, Kelly, 2016)
  4. Many teens experiencing mental illness prefer to get help from their peers over adults. That means it is important teens are equipped and educated to offer support when their friends reach out. (Hart, Mason, Kelly, 2016)

Warning Signs

Depression (NIH, 2018)

  1. Symptoms of depression commonly arise in the teens, 20s, and 30s. If you’re noticing any of the following signs in yourself or a friend, seek help from a trusted friend, adult or school counselor. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml
  • Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness
  • Feeling empty inside. Feeling numb.
  • Constant sadness and anxiety
  • Feeling irritable most of the time
  • Lost interest in activities and hobbies they usually enjoy
  • Restlessness or trouble sitting still
  • Loss of energy. Constantly feeling tired.
  • Dropping grades
  • Experiencing aches and pains, headaches, cramps, or stomach problems with no known cause
  • Eating more or less than usual. Excess weight gain or weight loss.
  • Thoughts of suicide, dying, or self-harm

Trauma Responses (betterhealth.vic.gov.au, 2020)

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ Depression-in-young-people

  1. Teens may be deeply affected by local, national, or international tragedies. When an event threatens our own safety or the safety of others it can be considered a trauma event.
  2. Experiencing trauma can interrupt a person’s daily functioning and cause high levels of physical, emotional, and psychological distress. Expressions of such stress can look different in teens than in children or adults.
  3. Teens may be more likely to act disrespectfully or disruptively and feel a sense of guilt at not having been able to prevent the traumatic event. (NIMH, 2019)
  4. Teens may hide their feelings after a traumatic event for many reasons, including wanting to be perceived as strong, not wanting to worry their parents, or needing more time alone to process the event.
  5. If you or a friend has experienced a traumatic event, such as death of a loved one, witnessing violence, or a natural disaster, take notice of any of the following symptoms and seek help:
  • Feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, or guilt
  • Overreacting to minor irritations
  • Ruminating on the traumatic event and talking about it often
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Withdrawing from family and friends, wanting to spend more time alone
  • Becoming extra protective of loved ones
  • Acting younger by ignoring responsibilities or becoming rebellious
  • Increased need for independence
  • Self-absorption and caring only about what is immediately important
  • Loss of interest in school, friends, hobbies, and life in general
  • Pessimistic outlook on life, being cynical and distrusting of others
  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulties with short-term memory, concentration and problem solving.

Suicidal Ideation

(Mayo Clinic, 2019) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teenhealth/in-depth/teen-suicide/art-20044308

  1. Many teens who attempt or commit suicide also have a separate mental disorder
  2. Teens with mental health issues may have greater trouble coping with stress from a breakup, family arguments, or feelings of rejection.
  3. Teens who consider suicide have trouble imagining their situation will improve.
  4. Though anti-depressants are likely to help reduce suicidal ideation in teens in the long-run, they can initially increase risk of suicide, especially in the first few weeks taking them.
  5. If someone you know is experiencing the following symptoms, seek help from an adult or
  • Talking about suicide or death
  • Self-isolation and reduced social contact
  • Irregular mood swings
  • Increased substance use
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Risky or self-destructive behavior
  • Giving away belongings for no logical reason
  • Exhibiting personality changes, such as severe anxiety, in conjunction with the above

How To Help A Friend

(NAMI, 2020) https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Teens-Young-Adults/How-to-Help-a-Friend

  1. If you notice changes in their behavior or mood, share your concerns and ask if they’d like to talk.
  • “I notice you never eat lunch with us anymore. Is everything okay?”
  • “It makes me afraid to hear you talk this way. Let’s talk with someone about it”
  1. Know that you don’t have to have the answers or the exact right response. Just listen and offer your support. (Helpguide.org, 2019)
  2. If your friend is not ready to talk with you, ask if there are other ways to help
  • “Can I help you set up a meeting with a counselor?”
  • “Can I help you with some chores you need to get done until you’re feeling better?”
  • “Do you need a ride to any of your appointments?”
  1. Check in regularly. Send your friend a call or text a couple times a week to see how they’re doing.
  2. Include your friend in plans, even if they don’t always come. Mental illness can make hard to go out and have fun, but your friend will appreciate being invited.
  3. Stick with your friend through hard times. Mental illness can make a person lash out or ditch plans. Your friend is going through a hard time though, so try not to take it personally.
  4. Learn about mental health conditions so you can better understand your friend.
  5. Don’t use judgmental language like “get over it” or “it’s no big deal.” Instead, reassure your friend that you are here for them and that they will get through this.
  6. Tell a trusted adult if your friend is suicidal. (Helpguide.org, 2019)
  7. Get help for yourself! Seeing a friend go through a hard time can be emotionally tough. Reach out to a trusted adult or a peer who you can talk with too.
  8. Know the resources available and share them with your friend!


National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
24 hour hotline for crisis resources

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
A variety of mental health resources over text

NAMI Chicago Helpline: 1-833-626-4244
Connects you to specific mental health resources in your area