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Teens and mental illness

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During the teenage years, parents observe increased moodiness, irritation and drama with their teens. Not only are teenager’s bodies changing, their minds and thought patterns are experiencing dramatic changes. However, with the increase in teen violence and teen suicide, many parents are concerned, and rightly so, about their child’s mental health.

Teenagers have a higher risk of developing a mental health disorder. In June of 2005, research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found 50 percent (50%) of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Researchers also reported that, despite effective treatments, there are long delays between the onset of the first symptoms and the time people begin to seek help for the illness. The landmark study documents the prevalence and severity of specific mental disorders and the effects on the quality of life for teens with specific disorders, including mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.

There are specific changes in behavior that may signal the onset of mental illness.

Having one change may be normal, but if your teen exhibits two or more, parents should have their child evaluated.

  • Sudden drop in grades;
  • New trouble thinking clearly or concentrating;
  • Becomes suspiciousness and/or uneasy with others;
  • Begins to neglect self-care or personal hygiene;
  • Spends a lot more time alone than usual;
  • Becomes increasingly sensitive to sights or sounds;
  • Mistakes noises for voices;
  • Expresses unusual or overly intense new ideas; and
  • Seems to have strange new feelings or seems to have no feelings at all.

If you are concerned that your teen may be developing a mental disorder it’s simpler to find support than you think. For your own peace of mind, contact one of these organizations to find out what you can do to help your teen.

  • The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) has a rich site with information that is useful for parents. In addition, NAMI has organizations and resources in all 50 states. Click here to find your state.
  • The Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital specializes in the diagnosis and the treatment of childhood and teen disorders. For appointment and treatment information click here.
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