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Guide To Helping a Teenager With a Mental Illness

Ask anyone who has a teenager at home; getting them to talk and open up about their mental health can be a difficult task. Most teens don’t want to talk to their parents. In fact, at that age, most are trying to push away from their parents as much as possible. This creates a problem when parents try helping their teenager with mental illness.

One in five teens has a diagnosable mental health disorder, and for all those that have been diagnosed, there are many more that go through daily life with an undiagnosed mental health disorder. Here is a guide on ways to identify and treat a teen with a mental illness.

What Causes A Teenager To Develop A Mental Illness?

In order to best help your teen, it’s important to learn and understand what can cause a mental health issue. Teenagers are more prone to mental health problems than any other age group for a variety of reasons.


Hormonal changes and brain development are by far the most “common” reasons for the development of a mental health issue. Researchers believe that this is because of all the moving parts that are at work as a result of those hormones.

The body and brain chemistry change significantly during a person’s teenage years, and sometimes it can cause a chemical imbalance in the brain, which can result in mental illness or disorder developing. When all the parts of the neural system don’t develop at the correct rate, a teen may experience changes in thinking, mood, and behavior.

In addition, if one or both of a teen’s biological parents has a mental health problem, a teen may be at an increased risk of developing one as well.


Traumatic experiences or incidents, such as a near-death experience or even a history of mental or physical abuse, can increase the risk of the development of mental illness. Environmental issues can also play a large factor in the mental health of a teenager.


While it might not seem like teenagers live overly stressful lives, the stress that goes with being someone of that age can be greater than you think.

There is the stress they might put on themselves to perform well academically so they can get into a good college. There’s the stress that might come with being picked on or bullied at school. There’s even the stress of dealing with and learning how to live in their new body as it develops through puberty. All these stresses can result in the development of a mental health issue if not properly dealt with.

Helping teens with mental illness

What Are Some Common Mental Health Problems in Teens?

Some of the most common mental health disorders found in teenagers include:

As we discussed earlier, teenagers are more susceptible to developing a mental illness than any other age bracket.

What Are Some Warning Signs To Look Out For?

While every person reacts differently to different changes, here are some warning signs to look out for are:

  • Loss of interest in activities – Has your teen stopped hanging out with their regular group of friends? Have they suddenly stopped showing interest in an activity that they have always been very passionate about? These could be signs that something is wrong.
  • Significant change in academics – If your child has typically done very well academically and all of a sudden has either stopped showing an interest in academics or has started falling behind, it might be a sign of the development of a mental issue.
  • Changes in sleep patterns – Are you starting to notice that your teen is taking a lot more naps or is complaining of constantly being tired all the time? Or maybe they aren’t sleeping at all anymore? If you notice a significant change in sleep patterns, it could be a sign of a problem.
  • Changes in weight or appetite – Skipping meals, hoarding food, and rapid changes in weight could be a sign of an eating disorder. Depression is often characterized by weight changes as well.
  • Extreme moodiness – Excessive anger, unexpected weeping, and high levels of irritability can be a sign of mental illness.

Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate mental illness from just a teenager being moody and going through regular hormonal changes. That’s why it is crucial to keep an eye on the patterns and behaviors of your teenagers and be on the lookout for any, particularly strange or atypical behaviors.

Different mental health disorders can occur together, such as anxiety or depression. Additionally, mental health disorders can overlap with physical health disorders such as depression and diabetes. Symptoms of mental health disorders can also be similar to other conditions.

Should I Talk To My Teen About Any Mental Health Concerns I May Have?

It is always important to keep an open line of communication with your teen. Not only will that allow you to express any concerns you may have with the way they have been behaving, but it will also increase the chances that they might come to you if they are feeling different.

Since it can be uncomfortable or a difficult topic to bring up, it’s important to remember to do so in a non-confrontational manner. Blaming your teen or making them feel worse than they probably already do will push them away further. And it will cause them to spiral further down the path that they are on.

While you might notice that they immediately open up when you bring up your concerns, don’t be surprised if they become annoyed or even insist that nothing is wrong, and it’s all in your head. After all, they are a teenager, and you are their parent.

How Do You Help A Teenager With A Mental Illness?

If it is an extreme case where you think they might be in danger, then immediately take them to a hospital. For all other cases, setting up an appointment to be evaluated by a specialist is the next step.

If the doctor or specialist feels that they would benefit from treatment from a mental health professional, then finding a treatment facility that specializes in adolescent mental health problems will be the next step. If that’s the case, chances are the doctor will recommend a place or suggests multiple facilities to check out.

Helping my teenager find treatment for mental illness

What Are a Teenagers Mental Health Treatment Options?

During inpatient therapy, the teen will live at the facility for the duration of treatment, while outpatient allows the teen to continue living at home while undergoing treatment.

If it has been determined that your teen needs treatment from a facility, the next step is to determine which treatment option is best for them. There are both inpatient and outpatient options.

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment involves psychotherapy. Some popular psychotherapy options include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) examines how a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior can get stuck in unhelpful patterns. During CBT, your teen would work with a therapist to develop new ways of thinking and acting. CBT has traditionally been useful when treating depression, anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorders.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)

This type of psychotherapy examines how a teenager’s relationships and interactions with others can affect their own thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Difficult relationships may cause stress for a person with a mental illness and improving these relationships may improve their quality of life. IPT has been found to be useful in treating depression.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a therapy that is helpful for people suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD). It can also be helpful for other psychological issues as well. DBT helps teens better manage their emotions and responses.

Begin Teenage Mental Health Treatment in California

Having a teen that suffers from a mental illness can be a scary time for a parent. That’s why we are here to help. At Montare Behavioral Health, it is our priority to get your teenager the help they need in order to treat their mental illness and learn how to live productive lives following treatment.

Contact us today to learn more about our teenage mental health treatment in Southern California.