The facts about teenage mental health

Mental health disorders in teens are defined as delays or disruptions in developing age-appropriate thinking, behaviors, social skills, or regulation of emotions. Many young individuals experience mental health challenges that impact their personal and social lives. In fact, 1 in 5 teens will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives, with more than half of all lifetime mental illness cases beginning by the age 14. Untreated mental health problems can often lead to drug and alcohol use and increased risk of teen suicide. 

It's okay to talk about mental health

While most teenagers will turn to their friends for support before turning to a trusted adult, the ongoing stigma around mental health disorders will cause many to struggle in silence. Don’t wait for your teen to come to you for help. Talk with them about mental health early and often. Your love, guidance, and support will positively impact your teen’s mental health and outlook on life.

Click here for tips on talking to your teen about mental health.

Mental health and teen substance use

When teenagers are struggling with emotional problems, they often turn to alcohol or drug use to help them manage difficult feelings. Because the adolescent brain is still developing, “self-medicating” becomes immediately more problematic for a teen compared to an adult. That’s because substance use can escalate from experimentation to a serious disorder more rapidly in adolescents and even more so in young individuals with mental health issues.


Teenagers experience a variety of social, mental, and emotional changes as they develop. Distinguishing mental illness from hormonal changes and mood swings in teens can be difficult. Below are common signs of mental health issues in adolescents. It’s important to note these symptoms can also be attributed to physical illness or substance abuse. If you’re concerned your teen has a mental illness, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare provider or counselor with your concerns. You play a critical role in getting your teen the help they may need.

Sleep changes

Sudden change in sleep habits; sleeping more than usual or not getting enough sleep

Mood swings

Personality shifts and changes, such as aggressiveness or excessive anger

Academic decline

Changes in school performance, including difficulty concentrating and avoiding or missing classes

Weight or appetite changes

Unexplained weight loss, decreased appetite or increased hunger

Loss of interest

Abandonment or lack of interest in favorite activities and pastimes, including avoiding social interactions

Poor hygiene

Sudden and/or ongoing lack of self-care or personal hygiene

If you or your teen are struggling with mental health or substance use issues, FirstLink’s 2-1-1 helpline is available 24/7 to connect you to the services you need. Also, be sure to check out our Crisis Roadmap to learn about other community resources available to support you and your family.


Every Conversation Matters

Talking to your teen about mental health