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Mental illness is a hypernym that encompasses distinct diagnosable mental health ailments, disorders, diseases, and conditions, which involve changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental health disorders can affect all areas of a young person’s life. Adolescent mental illness is highly prevalent in the United States, as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) indicates “at least one in five youth aged 9-17 years currently has a diagnosable mental health disorder that causes some degree of impairment; one in ten has a disorder that causes significant impairment.” Without proper treatment, in many cases, the pervasive symptoms associated with a diagnosed mental health condition interfere with a teen’s ability to functioning optimally in ordinary activities, inhibits their ability to complete simple daily tasks, and interrupts their ability to function well at home, in school or in other social situations. According to findings from the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative half of all mental health conditions start by age 14 but most cases go undetected and untreated. Therefore, although each specific mental health illness has distinct characteristics, it is important to be aware of some of the overarching warning signs commonly associated with psychiatric disorders of childhood and adolescence. These may include, but are not limited to, any combination of the following, provided by the Kennedy Krieger Institute:

  • Excessive sleeping (sleepiness beyond the usual adolescent fatigue) or insomnia, difficulty sleeping, frequent nightmares.
  • Abandonment or loss of interest in favorite pastimes or activities.
  • Unexpected or dramatic decline in academic performance.
  • Weight fluctuation.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Excessive worrying or fear.
  • Extreme mood changes or confused thinking.
  • Delusions or hallucinations.
  • Substance abuse (alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs).
  • Ideas of suicide.
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (headaches, stomach aches, etc.).
  • Hyperactive behavior or routine lethargy.
  • Frequent temper tantrums, aggression or harm to self or others.

Each young person is unique and will show symptoms differently, often in direct relation to age, biological makeup, and type of mental health disorder. The New York Times notes that early identification and intervention play a key role in treatment outcome and long-term recovery.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times. Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


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