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. Among teens with mental health needs, an alarming 50 percent do not receive the care they need.

Untreated mental health problems can often lead to drug and alcohol use and increased risk of teen suicide. Reaching out and talking with a professional can help break the cycle of isolation that mental health and substance use issues can create.

It's ok 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.

For tips on talking to your teen about mental health, click Learn More.


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. 


Warning signs of 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, school nurse or school counselor. You play a critical role in getting the help your teen 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, loss of 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 ongoing lack of self-care or personal hygiene.

If you or your teen are struggling with mental health or substance use issues, FirstLink is available 24/7 to connect you to the services you need. Dial 2-1-1 for local, free, and confidential help. 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