The vast majority of adults are not medically trained to identify signs of mental health disorders. As a result, important signs are oftentimes overlooked and categorized as normal adolescent changes in mood, laziness/lethargy, poor attitude, and/or immaturity. As a result, diagnosis of a mental disorder should always be made by a qualified mental health professional and taken seriously.
In the following section, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has highlighted key signs/symptoms associated with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, conduct disorder, anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
The key symptoms of major depressive disorder in teens are sad, depressed, angry, or irritable mood and lack of interest or pleasure in activities the teen used to enjoy. These symptoms will last for at least two weeks. These symptoms represent a clear and obvious changes from an individual’s normal/typical behavior. Oftentimes these symptoms may be accompanied by additional changes in appetite and sleep. Also, an individual may begin to have feelings of worthlessness/guilt, difficulty concentrating, slowed or agitated movement, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, fatigue/loss of energy, and self-harm behavior.
Bipolar disorder includes a shift between depression and mania and mania. Symptoms of mania will last at least one week and will result in discernable social and/or academic problems, and include extreme distractibility, lack of need for sleep, unusually rapid speech or motor activity, excessive talking, and involvement in risky activities such as gambling or irresponsible sexual behavior.
The key characteristics of generalized anxiety disorder are disproportionate, uncontrolled worry that occurs consistently (on most days) for a period of six months. Symptoms may include restlessness or feeling keyed up, irritability, being easily fatigued, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances.
Teens exhibiting signs/symptoms of substance use disorder portray problematic patterns of drug or alcohol use for a period lasting 12 months or more. This leads to significant impairment or distress. Symptoms include taking larger amounts, over a longer period, than originally intended; continued use despite knowing that it is causing problems; increased irritability and anger; sleep disturbances; and family conflict over substance use.
Conduct disorder is a repetitive, consistent pattern in children or adolescents and includes: violating the rights of others, rules, or social norms, occurring for a period lasting for at least 12 months. Bullying or threatening others, physical fights, fire-setting, destroying property, breaking into houses/cars, physical cruelty to people or animals, lying, shoplifting, running away from home are strong indicators of this disorder.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are strongly linked to other mental disorders, especially depression and anxiety. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include refusal to maintain a body weight appropriate for one’s age and height, intense fear of gaining weight, and a denial of low body weight. Symptoms of bulimia include repeated episodes of binge eating (at least twice a week for three months) combined with recurrent inappropriate behaviors to avoid gaining weight such as vomiting, misuse of laxatives, or excessive exercise.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. A toolkit for schools. Retrieved from: https://afsp.org/our-work/education/more-than-sad/