Mental Health in Adolescents

Many adolescents experience positive mental health, but an estimated 49.5 percent of adolescents has had a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.1 The good news is that promoting positive mental health can prevent some problems. For young people who do have mental health disorders, early intervention and treatment can help lessen the impact on their lives.

It is a normal part of development for teens to experience a wide range of emotions. It is typical, for instance, for teens to feel anxious about school or friendships, or to experience a period of depression following the death of a close friend or family member. However, mental health disorders are characterized by persistent symptoms that affect how a young person feels, thinks, and acts. Mental health disorders also can interfere with regular activities and daily functioning, such as relationships, schoolwork, sleeping, and eating.2

Common Mental Health Warning Signs

Mental health is not simply the presence or absence of symptoms. Variations in how adolescents experience symptoms can make identification and diagnosis of mental health disorders challenging.3 According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an adolescent might need help if they:

If you observe warning signs and need to seek help, consult your healthcare provider or mental health professional. In crisis or life-threatening situations, call 911, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 1-800-273-8255 or using Lifeline Chat, or go to your nearest hospital emergency room. Visit NIMH’s Help for Mental Illness page for more details and to identify treatment options in your area.

  • Lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy
  • Have low energy
  • Have difficulty sleeping or eating
  • Spend more time alone and avoid social activities
  • Excessively exercise, diet, and/or binge eat 
  • Harm themselves (e.g., burning or cutting their skin)
  • Use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
  • Engage in risky or destructive behavior
  • Have thoughts of suicide
  • Think their mind is being controlled or is out of control or hear things other people cannot hear

Common Mental Health Disorders in Adolescence

Common mental health disorders in adolescence include those related to anxiety, depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity, and eating.4,5

Anxiety disorders

  • Characterized by feelings of excessive uneasiness, worry, and fear
  • Occur in approximately 32 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds6
  • Examples include generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias

Depression

  • Depressed mood that affects thoughts, feelings, and daily activities, including eating, sleeping, and working
  • Occurs in approximately 13 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds7
  • Examples include major depressive disorder and seasonal affective disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Characterized by continued inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with daily functioning or development
  • Occurs in approximately nine percent of 13- to 18-year-olds8

Eating disorders

  • Characterized by extreme and abnormal eating behaviors, such as restricted or excessive eating
  • Occur in almost three percent of 13- to 18-year-olds9
  • Examples include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder

Footnotes

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Mental illness. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml back to top

2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Child and adolescent mental health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health/index.shtml back to top

3 Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., & Han, B. (2016). National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults. Pediatrics, 138(6). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1878 back to top

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Data and statistics on children’s mental health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html back to top

5 National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Eating disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders.shtml back to top

6 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Any anxiety disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder back to top

7 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Major depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression back to top

8 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd back to top

9 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders back to top